Thursday, 12 December 2013

EEPD Committee- National Audit Office slams Free School spending

The committee welcomed the report published by the National Audit Office, which highlighted that the Government's controversial Free School programme will cost at least three times the budget allocated: an eye watering £1.5 billion, and the programme prioritised speed over cost and schools were not always where places were most needed. (see BBC reporting here)

We all know that Gove has thrown everything but the kitchen sink at this misguided policy. Civil Servants at the Department for Education are being pulled from other tasks to support the free schools, and millions of pounds that were expected to go to popular and established schools (including some which I know well in my own local area) that desperately needed investment in buildings are instead being diverted to these ideologically motivated vanity projects.

Christine Blower said"The NUT welcomes today’s report from the National Audit Office and the light it sheds on a process which until now the taxpayer has been funding with little or no information; either on the rationale behind the decision-making process for approving these new schools, or the value for money that the schools represent. 

At a time when school budgets are being squeezed, taxpayers are entitled to know that education funding decisions are being made prudently. It is a disgrace that the key determinant of the free schools policy so far has been to ensure the opening of schools at pace, rather than ensuring that they are needed and will provide ‘value for money’.

The approval of 42 free schools to open in areas with no forecasted need, at an estimated capital cost of at least £241 million when many areas have a severe shortage of school places, is simply wrong. We have already seen free schools open with many places unfilled, creating even great surpluses.

At a time of school budget cuts, it is incredible that Michael Gove saw fit to spend £103 million on free schools’ pre- and post-opening financial support. This is money which would have been far better directed towards local authorities, allowing them to open new primary schools.

The NAO data shows that free schools have far fewer pupils on free school meals or with English as an additional language than neighbouring schools. The admissions policies, governance and oversight arrangements of free schools need to change. They should be representative of the communities they ‘serve’.

This report will make for very uncomfortable reading for Michael Gove and the Coalition Government. We need to see an end to this folly of an education policy. The money and energy that has been spent on free schools, whose Ofsted inspection reports show a pattern of results no different from those of other schools, should have been better spent. Michael Gove needs to understand this is an idea which was flawed from the start and is unravelling before his very eyes.”

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