Four out of five free schools that opened this year have failed to fill all their places, according to data acquired via Freedom of Information requests.
The Government believes free schools, which are outside the control of their local councils, are the key to pushing up teaching standards. But FoIs submitted by the Labour Party found only seven new secondary free schools and two free primary schools that were full when they opened.
In Brixton, south London, a group of parents said they wanted a free school with a Catholic ethos. After £18m had been spent on buying premises big enough to accommodate 120 pupils, the Trinity Academy eventually opened with just 17.
The opening of the Discovery school in Newcastle upon Tyne was delayed because of a row over who funding, and eventually opened in September with only a third of its 360 places filled.
The drive for more free schools has been criticised because it was suspected that the cost of setting up and running them has meant that there is less money for the council-run state schools.