Michael Gove 'has wasted millions on free school pet projects'

 

The Government is to more than treble its free school programme this month, with 55 new schools opening their doors for the new term.

The number, though, is down on Education Secretary Michael Gove's original plans to give the all clear to 79 – fuelling claims from Labour that he is wasting money on "pet projects". The 24 missing schools have either failed to attract enough pupils, had their funding withdrawn by the Department for Education or failed to find premises.

At a conference for free schools at the weekend, Toby Young, founder of West London Free School, the first to open, warned potential pioneers: "You really can't be complacent. There are quite a few reasons which could prevent you from opening."

Key among them are failing to attract enough pupils, as happened in the case of the One In A Million free school in Bradford and Newham Free School in east London (which attracted only three applications from parents). Both had their funding withdrawn by ministers.

Those opening this month include a wide range of different projects, including the Tiger primary school in Maidstone, Kent, where all pupils will learn Mandarin and play a musical instrument and the country's first bilingual primary school in Brighton, where pupils will be taught in both Spanish and English. The 55 include schools run by teachers, parents, charities and faith groups.

A Premier League football club, Everton, will also be involved, providing alternative education for young people excluded or not coping with mainstream education.

In addition, Tony Blair's former speech writer, Peter Hyman, who is credited with scripting his pledge that "education, education and education" would be his Government's three top priorities, will be opening a new free school in London's East End later this month.

The Government comes under fire from Labour today when the party's education spokesman, Stephen Twigg, accuses Mr Gove of wasting £2.3m on "pet projects".

Labour is releasing figures which show that an estimated 3,260 more pupils have missed out on getting into any of their parents' preferred options for primary schools as a bulge in the birth rate leads to a demand for more places to be provided.

Mr Twigg said: "The Government is making this crisis worse by wasting millions of pounds on pet project schools that either don't open or don't have support from the local community and parents."

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