The government declares that £35million has been allocated to Free Schools this year -- some mistake surely?

Francis Gilbert's picture
In a recent answer to a Parliamentary Question on March 21st, Schools Minister, Nick Gibb declared that £35 million has been allocated to Free Schools this year. He says that the government is being transparent about the funding process, and will declare all costs for Free Schools once they open. Surely, this isn't being transparent at all: we need to know projected costs BEFORE these schools open.

Furthermore, the figure of £35 million can't include the capital costs of these schools. We know already that West London Free School will cost £12million, and Kings' Science Academy in Bradford will cost £10 million in capital costs; already two thirds of the TOTAL money allocated to Free Schools. The government needs to urgently tell us how much of the £2 billion ear-marked for capital funds devoted to extra-pupil places has been allocated to Free Schools. All the evidence suggests that the government would be saving millions if they helped existing schools to expand rather than setting up divisive, expensive Free Schools.  

Key point:

We need transparency about capital funds and initial start-up costs for free schools BEFORE they open.
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Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 24/03/2011 - 17:35

And while this money is being allocated to schools which do not yet exist, other schools are being financially disadvantaged. Two of my local schools in their consultation letters to convert to academies made it quite clear that they were doing this for financial reasons - this was the only way they could safeguard teaching jobs, teaching assistants posts, special education needs provision and a wide range of course options. The DfE says there should be no financial advantage in schools converting to academies but there must be if schools are saying they are converting for financial reasons. So, it appears that there's money for academies on conversion and money allocated to non-existent free schools, but LA schools are having their budgets cut. It is immoral and unethical.

Fiona Millar's picture
Thu, 24/03/2011 - 17:36

We also need to know what has happened to the James Review that was looking into how capital funding to schools should be distributed post BSF. It was due originally to report before Christmas. Why is this money being given to free schools before any others?

Francis Gilbert's picture
Thu, 24/03/2011 - 19:07

Gove said on 21st March in HoC that the James review will report "shortly" for allocation of capital funds to schools for 2012-2013, 2014-2015. Yes, Janet, I know of two schools that are converting to Academies for financial reasons too. However, I know of one which has converted but is "struggling" with the YPLA (Young People's Learning Agency which doles out the money) in getting its money!

Allan Beavis's picture
Thu, 24/03/2011 - 19:37

Costs must be spiralling. And does the Dfe know exactly what they are budgeting for?

According to Education Investor, the Dfe are bringing in the Partnership for Schools (PfS) quango to solve the problems free school trusts are facing in locating suitable sites and this is forcing the government to purchase buildings on their behalf.

Education Investor says "In most cases, this involves finding a building that the DfE or another public authority will acquire and pass on to the school. In the event that a school closes, that building will then revert to the procuring authority. This is the system that will be used to provide a home for the West London Free School."

So if the school fails then, what is the DfE or procuring body going to do with being lumbered with a building and the costs of getting rid of it? Isn't the money better spent on investment in existing established schools?

What utter nonsense.

“Furthermore, the figure of £35 million can’t include the capital costs of these schools.”

Since when did 10 + 12 = more than 35? It is well within the realms of possibility that it can include capital costs, especially as these represent secondary schools which are likely to be more expensive than primaries.
“All the evidence suggests that the government would be saving millions if they helped existing schools to expand rather than setting up divisive, expensive Free Schools.”
What evidence? Can anyone play this game?
How about, “All the evidence suggests that the government would be saving millions if they expanded benefits offices rather than invested in apprenticeship schemes.”
Or, “All the evidence suggests that the government would be saving millions if they halved the hours for pupils at school and employed half the number of teachers to teach two shifts.”
Or, “All the evidence suggests that the government would be saving millions if they spent less per pupil on education.”
Or, “All the evidence suggests that the government would be saving millions if they just didn’t do anything. I mean why bother, what’s the point really? In the long run we’re all dead. Makes you think.”
Or even, “All the evidence suggests the government would be saving millions if they helped existing schools to expand rather than setting up divisive, expensive Free Schools.”
The “All the evidence suggests the government would be saving millions if …” competition is now open, answers on a postcard.

Francis, I know what you are saying. The average cost of servicing a child with an education would be smaller if the government expanded existing schools. The thing is, you get what you pay for. My second tongue in cheek point above is an analogy for your proposition. I know we disagree about this but I see introducing competition into the education environment as a way of improving outcomes for the whole community. Yes, it may be more expensive but it is an investment the purpose of which is a better outcome. The purpose of the WLFS is not just to provide a place for a child. Saying something is more expensive is not an argument in itself. Furthermore, I don’t agree with you that the government should just expand existing places. Does that mean that I can call that potential policy “divisive”?

Allan, are you serious? If you are and you have any valuable assets that you don't want to be lumbered with then I'm sure I can find a good use for them.

Sarah Dobbs's picture
Thu, 24/03/2011 - 21:54

Janet - I am confused about the financial gains these Lincolnshire schools say they are getting. As you know, in Louth we have a situation where five schools are looking to merge and then go to academy status. I attended a local council meeting with one of the heads and chair of governors last month. They made it quite clear to me that the financial savings would be made through the merger and NOT academy status - they really did seem to understand that very well.

The head of the primary school where I work was saying that the big financial incentive for them would have been convert this year as CfBT were, in effect, offering a bribe for early conversion. Additionally, it is interesting and disturbing (in equal measure) to know that the CfBT bid for the primary schools involves top-slicing more from satisfactory or failing primaries than from good or outstanding ones.

So the devil for your local schools will be in the detail, I am sure. I do not see how the schools are getting an increased economy of scale unless they are going for a chain sponsor. Can you let me have the details of the schools Janet ( and a copy of the letters if you have one)? The NUT are hoping to work with my Louth group in getting a county wide campaign going for Lincolnshire.
Many thanks.

Francis Gilbert's picture
Fri, 25/03/2011 - 08:48

Thanks to Charlie for pointing these things out. I think it's still a mystery about the money though. We know Bolingbroke is getting £14m, (plus £22m for WLFS and Kings), plus £4m for the Free School in Suffolk, that's already £40m in capital expenditure. I suspect that the £35m figure is for the running costs of the schools and doesn't include capital expenditure or start-up costs. My calculations based on last year's figures suggests that the average state school costs £1m BEFORE it's even got any pupils, due to overheads etc. The fact is that the govt would have been better to adopt the Swedish/US model whereby Free Schools raise their own capital funds and only get the go-ahead if they say that they can run a school more cheaply than the state sector; that way the taxpayer doesn't pick up the tab if the schools fail. The way the govt has set this up is not an efficient use of taxpayer's money.

allan beavis's picture
Fri, 25/03/2011 - 12:27

Charlie -

Thank you but, yes, I am being serious.

At a time of devastating cutbacks, it is more important than ever to wisely spend and invest tax payers money.

The DfE needs a bigger capital budget but Michael Gove conceded a 60% cut to his department's capital budget. Seeing as the school system requires capital to solve them and Mr. Gove's plans, with free schools at the helm, also requiring upfront capital spending, I am at a loss to see the sense in his department additionally now investing in "acquiring" up buildings to house free schools that the proposers didn't bother to source and plan for in their mission statement or budget.

Toby Young has already revealed that before the system was recently changed, free school applicants like himself had to do little more than send in a "fairly short document" which was then approved and fleshed out into an actual business plan with mission statements and budgets by a project management company paid for by the DfE.

The Education budget is insufficient to either nurture it's ambitions or sustain it's responsibilities to the existing system. Funding new free schools needs money so we need clarification as to exactly what the £35m buys. At the moment, it's all windy rhetoric.

In the meantime, a baby boom that started in 2001 is already stretching existing buildings beyond their breaking point, especially in London. Government spending is therefore better invested in keeping existing schools in tolerable repair rather than in acquiring buildings for free schools, whose capital funds and start-up costs remain vague.

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