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

Janet Downs's picture
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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