£750k: cost to taxpayer of just one halted free school
DfE compensated Southall College for costs re proposed Floreat Southall School
The Department for Education (DfE) paid Southall College £750k for ‘costs incurred’ relating to the proposed Floreat Southall School, the DfE Annual Report and Accounts for financial year 2017/18 reveal.
An application to open two primary free schools, Floreat Southall and Floreat Alperton was approved in 2015. In January 2016, prime minister David Cameron gave a speech saying how we’ll learn from these two schools. This plugged proposals by his former adviser, James (now Lord) O’Shaughnessy, who founded Floreat Education Academies Trust (FEAT), the trust behind the projects.
But neither Floreat Southall nor Floreat Alperton opened.
In April 2016, the Kilburn Times said Floreat Alperton would open in Colindale. But it didn’t.
In September 2016, Ealing council said Floreat Southall had been ‘deferred’.
FEAT has two free schools in the pipeline but its only opened free school, Floreat Brentford, closed in July. FEAT’s two remaining primary schools are sponsored academies.
Millions lost on other cancelled free school projects
The report only includes cancellations which incurred losses of over £300k so the total cost of free school cancellations isn’t known. Nevertheless, the losses above £300k show millions have been lost on cancelled free school projects.
For example, between 2011 and 2017 nearly £6m has been lost on Project Development Grants (PDGs) for free schools and studio schools which were approved but never opened, DfE data shows (downloadable here). The PDGs for Floreat Southall and Floreat Alperton/Colindale totalled £340k.
These grants don’t include any capital costs which might have been incurred.
DfE accepts 'a level of attrition' re free school proposals
The report says the DfE ‘tolerated a level of attrition’ because free school trusts behind approved projects may not eventually be able to open a ‘financially viable school offering a good or better standard of education’.
Perhaps this should be identified before millions are spent.
Unrecoverable balances of £3.2m at three closed UTCs
Three UTC closures left unrecoverable balances of £3.2 million, the report says. This relates to ‘adjustments for excess pupil funding and recoverable deficit funding’.
Auditor gives ‘limited’ assurance rating to DfE report about free schools on temporary sites
The Government Internal Audit Agency (GIAA), which supplements the DfE’s own checks, is unhappy about the DfE’s report ‘Newly Opened Free Schools on Temporary Sites' (doesn't appear to be available on-line). GIAA gave it a ‘limited’ rating. This means GIAA found ‘significant weaknesses in the framework of governance, risk management and control’.
Many free school losses could be avoided
The DfE could avoid losses on free school projects by only approving them where there’s a need for new places. This would help avoid proposals being aborted or, worse, free schools shutting after being opened, because places couldn’t be filled. It would also avoid free schools being set up when they're likely to affect the viability of existing schools.
Further reading: Schools Week has published 12 things it learned from the report. It’s here.