Fifty-five new free schools to open, government reveals
Fifty-five new free schools are opening this month, tripling the number in place across England, ministers say.Education Secretary Michael Gove said he hoped the schools would be as successful as the 24 existing ones.
Free schools - a flagship government policy - are state-funded but not under local authority control and have more control over teaching and budgets.
Labour has criticised the amount of public money spent on projects that have faced delays or been abandoned.
Free schools can be set up by groups of parents, teachers, charities, businesses, universities, trusts, religious or voluntary groups.
The first ones opened last September and, in announcing the opening of 55 more this month, the Department for Education said a further 114 had been approved to open from next year.
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Free schools - key facts
- Free schools are set up by groups of parents, teachers, charities, businesses, universities, trusts, religious or voluntary groups
- They are funded directly by central government and are not in local authority control
- Heads have more control over the curriculum, teachers' pay and conditions, term dates and the school day
- Free schools were much talked about in the run-up to the general election in 2010 and are the flagship policy of Michael Gove
- They must operate an inclusive, fair and transparent admissions policy and cannot be academically selective
Mr Gove said: "Every child should have the choice to go to an excellent local school. These new schools have been set up by idealistic people who are determined to give parents the kind of choice that only the rich can currently afford."The first 24 free schools are enormously popular and I expect this second wave to be equally successful."
Mr Gove argues such schools offer choice for parents but the policy has faced problems.
In one example, more than £200,000 had been invested in setting up a free school in Bradford, but just days before the start of term funding was withdrawn because the school had failed to attract enough pupils.
The charity behind the project, One in a Million, said it hoped the school would open next September instead.
Last week, shadow education secretary Stephen Twigg wrote to Mr Gove asking how many of the 79 free schools that had been due to open in September would do so.
Mr Twigg said at least £2.3m had been spent on three projects alone, two of which were abandoned and one of which is half empty.
He suggested the true figure spent on such schemes could be much higher because of what he called a "lack of transparency" over the way they are being funded.
Primary places Speaking on the Sky News Murnaghan programme on Sunday, Mr Twigg said he supported the idea of free schools, but only where they were appropriate for the area in which they were placed.
"The problem we have got is the government puts all of its eggs in the basket of free schools, so when they fail it is a waste of public money," he said.
"The programme is not being tailored to those parts of the country that most need additional school places."
Meanwhile, Labour has released figures that suggest more than 3,000 additional children in England failed to get any of their choices of primary school this year compared with 2010.
The party produced the numbers from responses to Freedom of Information requests from 18 local authorities - 12% of the total.
Labour said if the figures were replicated across the country the number of children affected would have increased to 22,787 from 19,535 in 2010