NEU research reveals “staggering cost and failure rate” of the free schools policy

NEU analysis of government data shows that more than £300m in one-off capital and revenue grants has been spent on failed free schools, University Technical Colleges (UTCs) and studio schools since 2010

The research also found that one in eight schools which opened under the free school banner – a flagship Conservative policy – went on either to close completely or were transferred to another academy trust.

The main findings of the NEU research show that:

  • £303m has been spent on failed free schools, UTCs and studio schools since 2010, according to government data. Of this total, £295m was spent on those schools that either closed completely or were transferred to new trusts while £8m was spent on 65 approved schools that never even opened.
  • One in eight (76) of the 624 free schools, UTCs and studio schools that have opened since 2010 has been unsuccessful, either closing, announcing closure or being “rebrokered” to another academy trust. Around 60% of these unsuccessful schools (45 in total) have closed completely or announced closure, while 31 have been rebrokered.
  • Of the £295m, the total spend on the 45 schools that closed completely was £186m while £108m was spent on set up costs for the 31 schools that were subsequently rebrokered.
  • The real total is likely to be even higher as the government data does not yet include all the unsuccessful free schools, UTCs and studio schools.

Of the £295m spent on closed (45) or rebrokered (31) schools, £240m went on the capital costs (“site acquisition” and “construction” costs) of these projects with £55m shelled out in the form of one-off revenue grants (“project development” and “post opening” grants).

Commenting on the findings, Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said:

“These figures reveal a shocking record of failure and waste that has been the hallmark of the free school programme. Conservative politicians should be ashamed of the fact that one in eight of these schools has not been successful and that this has incurred a staggering waste of taxpayers’ money to the tune of over £300 million. The free school policy is one of the few specific education commitments made in the Conservative Party manifesto. Continuing to pursue this tainted and wasteful vanity project is bad enough, but to do so while refusing to give other schools the funds they desperately need is a disgrace.

“Free school closures are not just a huge waste of money – they also cause massive upheaval, disruption and distress for the staff, pupils and parents affected. It is usually the local authority that is left to pick up the pieces, such as finding new school places for pupils when a school closes. This puts extra financial and resource burdens on councils when they themselves lack sufficient finances.

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“There is simply no justification for continuing with this damaging and wasteful policy while starving other schools of adequate funding. It is time to knock the policy on the head and use the money this will free up to help ensure that existing schools get the funds they need.”

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