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DfE releases final capital costs for 18 free schools. What do the figures show?

Final capital costs for 18 free schools have recently been released. Contracts have been signed so the Government says these figures are no longer “commercially sensitive”.

So what do the figures show?

Free schools which grew from existing schools received little capital funding. Batley Grammar School received just £177,567 for refurbishment. Sandbach Free School, however, received half-a-million for a new building. This could be justified because Sandbach was over-capacity*. However, the speedy construction contrasts with the process set up for schools requiring maintenance. These have to bid under the Priority School Building Programme (PSB) for funding. 587 schools bid for PSB money – less than half (261) were successful. 219 of these will be funded through the Private Finance Initiative (PFI) which will tie them to contracts for such things as maintenance for years.

Another existing school, Maharishi Free School, an all-through school with a capacity of 180, received over half-a-million. The Maharishi Free School has had a troubled beginning – it’s been twice censured by the Schools Adjudicator and failed to administer Key Stage 2 Sats in 2012.

Eden Primary School (capacity 210 with 30 pupils at present) received £6 million. Etz Chaim Jewish Primary, capacity 222, which has 76 pupils aged 3-6 (Ofsted), was granted £6.5 million.

Two primary free schools run by the Cuckoo Hall Academies Trust (CHAT), Kingfisher Hall and Woodpecker Hall, received a total of nearly £11 million.

Stour Valley Community School, a secondary free school, was granted £5 million to establish a school in an area with surplus places. Last year it was claimed that Stour Valley received funding for the full capacity of 540 pupils when it only had about 185. This raises the question: how many other free schools were, and continue to be, funded to their full capacity when they have empty spaces?

Langley Hall Primary Academy, Slough, (school full and has a waiting list according to local press) received just over £4.5 million. Over £2 million purchased a listed building for the school. According to the local paper, the Academy wants to purchase another listed building, now lying derelict, to act as a canteen. The local Council anticipates a growing demand for primary school places in Slough and hopes free schools may be established. However, it notes that the provision of free schools is decided by the Department for Education (DfE) not the Council and there could be a surplus of places initially which would make existing schools vulnerable.

The above figures once again demonstrate that funding appears quickly for free schools while money for existing schools is slower to obtain. Where free schools are established in areas where there is a shortfall of school places, such costs could be justified. But such expenditure cannot be a good use of taxpayers’ money where there is a surplus already.

79 free schools have been opened – 24 in September 2011. Yet the DfE released figures for 18 schools only. Sites have been purchased and some of these free schools are in refurbished temporary accommodation. The cost of this must already be known. The Government should release them.

Spreadsheet downloadable here.

*Figures from Edubase unless otherwise stated. Disclaimer: Edubase figures may not be up-to-date.


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Comments, replies and queries

  1. Tubby Isaacs says:

    No money left!

    Excellent work, Janet. In addition to the areas you cover here, do you have a sense of how good value free schools are for providing extra places where they are needed?

  2. Tubby Isaacs says:

    Another angle I see you touch on is whether all the work being done now needs to be done now. Certainly, there’s a logic in doing all the capital work in one go. But how do you balance that against the fact other schools need money now?

    • Tubby – I can see the point of establishing a free school if there is a need for more places. And LAs have no option in accepting an academy or free school to fulfill such a demand (see comment by Slough council in original thread). But if there are already surplus places or school place supply is sufficient then the establishment of a free school is a waste of taxpayers’ money.

      The National Audit Office is going to investigate expenditure on free schools. Perhaps the Public Accounts Committee should also investigate.

      • Tubby Isaacs says:

        Oh yes, I agree with that.

        I just wondered if there was anything on whether they were the best way of filling demand when there was some.

        Chris Cook number crunched a while ago and found free schools were likely to be small.

        That sounds very inefficient.

        • Thanks, Tubby, I hadn’t realised there was a built-in incentive to keep free school primaries small. Does this apply to secondaries, I wonder? Many of the secondary free schools use small size as a marketing ploy. But the only way for such small secondaries to offer a full range of courses is to give them more money to pay for the necessary number of specialist teachers. And if these small secondary free schools attract pupils away from existing secondaries then less money goes to the existing secondary (cue teacher redundancies, reduced options) because in their case money follows the pupils.

  3. Tubby – the National Audit Office’s report on Capital Funding for New School Places found that only 2 out of 122 LAs would support a new free school to a “great extent” to meet a demand for extra school places.

    And there’s already evidence that money is being showered on free schools in areas where they’re not needed:

    Concern is growing about possible waste of taxpayers’ money in establishing free schools where they’re not required. See petition here:

    Research done by an IoE academic found that successful free school applications tend to be for those schools offering a classical model of education and they don’t set up in disadvantaged areas:

    Some more examples:

    Sandymoor Free School (PAN 90 pa) opened with just 20 Y& and Y8 pupils in temporary classrooms.

    Beccles Free School opened in area with surplus places despite local opposition.

    Becket Keys CofE Free School opened in area with falling rolls. Its opening appears to have scuppered local authority plans to reduce the number of surplus places.

    And the Guardian found that King’s Leadership Academy was established on a school playing field after the DfE applied pressure on the local council to relinquish the land:

    It will be interesting to see how much the DfE paid, if anything, for the land on which King’s Leadership Academy is based.

  4. […] The Local Schools Network would seem to agree with Ed Balls’ point about “excess”. They found that Eden Primary School had just 30 pupils – well below its capacity for 210. They also pointed to Stour Valley Community School which they claim received full funding for 540 pupils, despite having only 185. […]

    • Peter Kessler says:

      Eden Primary is operating at full capacity. It admits 30 children per year into Reception, and is following the LEA’s specific advice to build up one year at a time, in order not to cause problems for other local schools. After seven years it will hold 210 children. Applications for the 30 places in September 2013 exceeded 200.

      • It is still true that six million is reasonably generous for a one form entry school, but there is a context here. Apart from Peter Kessler’s point that the school is filling up from reception, so takes six more years to fill, there is the further point that Haringey Council had identified a need for extra spaces in the area, and has alredy expanded the existing schools. So in this case the Free School was basically in the right place. I recall that Haringey Council greeted the announcement of the new school by saying that a. They disagreed with Free Schools in principle but b. They supported this one, as a one off, as the places needed.

        • David – if free schools are set up in areas where there’s a genuine need then there can’t really be an objection. It’s unclear, however, why such schools only grow one year at a time. Surely it would help relieve pressure on other schools if a new school operated at capacity as soon as it was opened (and didn’t discriminate against certain pupils by setting admission criteria which deter applications from certain children).

  5. […] The Local Schools Network would seem to agree with Ed Balls’ point about “excess”. They found that Eden Primary School had just 30 pupils – well below its capacity for 210. They also pointed to Stour Valley Community School which they claim received full funding for 540 pupils, despite having only 185. […]

  6. […] The Local Schools Network would seem to agree with Ed Balls’ point about “excess”. They found that Eden Primary School had just 30 pupils – well below its capacity for 210. They also pointed to Stour Valley Community School which they claim received full funding for 540 pupils, despite having only 185. […]

  7. […] The Local Schools Network would seem to agree with Ed Balls’ point about “excess”. They found that Eden Primary School had just 30 pupils – well below its capacity for 210. They also pointed to Stour Valley Community School which they claim received full funding for 540 pupils, despite having only 185. […]

  8. Actually even if the free school is set up “where there is a genuine need” I think there can be objections, and some of these have been made on this site…but clearly, yes, if there is a need for school places one important source of objections is removed. (But, for example, even if there were a demand for places, allowing a for profit company to set up a Free School as is proposed in the Islington case would be objectionable. That there is not a demand for places either just adds to it…)

    Regarding growing only one year at a time, I can think of two important difficulties:

    1. Demand for new places higher than reception in Muswell Hill is low, in London people move in and out of areas and, on the whole, more children move out than move in. So it is very common for a school heavily oversubscribed for reception to have a couple of vacancies by year 6 – sometimes more. So a surplus of higher places would have been produced in the area.

    2. Partly because of point 1 it would have been very hard to fill years 1 to 6, and class sizes too small to be economic would have been likely.

    • David – I take your point about for-profit companies setting up free schools even in areas of genuine need for extra places.

      If fluctuating demand is the problem (ie shortfall one year, surplus the next) then I would think that a “bulge” class would be a better solution than opening a new school.

      I also take your point about the possible difficulty of filling years 1-6. It would appear, then, that there was no need for a whole new school. The problem could be solved by using “bulge” classes – more economical and more flexible.

      • I wasnt as clear as I could have been. The problem in Muswell Hill was a slight increase in demand for reception places difficult to manage without a new school as a number of existing schools had already been expanded, but I understand that this was a relatively long term demand and so not solved by bulge classes but by permanent expansion. The Eden School is only one form entry, I believe, and only took children in at reception filling up over the succeeding six years had it started to take children in at all seven years from the START it would have found it hard to get enough year 6 children say, to transfer from somewhere else. And what would have been the point? The demand was “fluctuating” only in the sense that in the very long term it would.

        So Eden is providing an extra thirty reception places in the Muswell Hill area each year, which Haringey find useful.

  9. Peter Kessler says:

    The reason why we opened with one class and built up from there was because that was what Haringey education department asked us to do. The reason they gave was that schools who open with older classes must by definition take those older children from other schools. This creates problems for those other schools of various kinds (financial being only one). This seemed like very sensible advice.

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