Proposed free schools still homeless


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The Independent Online

Half of the free schools due to open this year have not yet secured premises, an education minister admitted yesterday.

Nick Gibb, the Schools minister, said that just 35 of the 79 free schools due to open in 2012 had a confirmed school site. Labour said that the Government's free-school plans were "in disarray" and said that the figure would worry parents.

The admission came in response to a parliamentary question by the shadow Education Secretary, Stephen Twigg.

Mr Gibb said less than half the free schools that opened in 2011 had secured a site by this time last year and insisted negotiations for prospective buildings were progressing.

Nine of the 24 free schools that opened last September were initially based in temporary premises.

Free schools – state-funded institutions founded and managed by parents, teachers, charities and private firms – are one of the keystones of the Government's education-reform programme. They are allowed greater freedom over curriculum and teachers' pay and are accountable to central government rather than to local authorities.

The New Schools Network, a charity that is working with the Government and free-school founders, said parents often found finding premises "a real headache".

Natalie Evans, the charity's chief operating officer, told the Times Educational Supplement: "Finding premises is extremely difficult, and is one of the biggest frustrations and a real headache for groups."

Mr Twigg said that the Government's approach to building new schools was "chaotic".

The Department for Education said it was working with free schools to help them realise their ambitions.