£750k: cost to taxpayer of just one halted free school

Janet Downs's picture

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.  

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Celia Blair's picture
Sat, 28/07/2018 - 19:30

FEAT's Shinfield school Floreat Silver Meadow in Wokingham was/is due to open in September of this year but does not appear on the Local Authority's list of primary schools available for admissions 2018-2019.

Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 30/07/2018 - 10:20

Celia - thanks for that.  After reading your comment, I discovered Wokingham council offered no places at Silver Meadow (download 2018 primary schols allocations here).  It's still on the DfE list of free schools in the pipeline (downloadable here).  A local paper said in January,  the opening was on track and construction had commenced, and in February, Floreat said Silver Meadow was expected to open in September.

I found a website URL https://floreatsilvermeadow.org.    But when I clicked on it I was told it had been 'marked private by the owner'.   I could access it if I had permission or a Wordpress account.  I logged in to my Wordpress account but then was told the site was private and I'd have to have permission from the site owner.   This suggests things aren't going to plan at Silver Meadow or why restrict access when potential parents may want further info?  I searched Floreat's website but the search returned no result.

I found a Wokingham Council Schools Forum note dated 24 March 2017 which said:

'Within 2016/17 actual spend against Montague Park and Bohunt were significantly higher than the original budget set. All the other schools were either the subject of an underspend or were within a very small variance. The pre opening costs (known as a PDG) for Shinfield West (Floreat Silver Meadow ) were paid out of the 2016/17 budget but there are limited costs profiled for the next financial year as a decision was made to delay opening until September 2018.'

It appears, then, the council spent more than expected towards Floreat Montague Park and Bohunt (a sponsored academy which opened as 'new provision' on 1 September 2016).  It also paid the pre-opening costs for Silver Meadow.  But this may be wasted money if Silver Meadow doesn't open.


Celia Blair's picture
Mon, 30/07/2018 - 19:31


Floreat says it has no vacancies but it wants 4 jobs to be done by volunteers.

Volunteer Office Administrator - 3–5 days a week, minimum 6 hours per day
Finance Volunteer - a committed person to work 3-5 days full time for a minimum of 6 months in the Finance Department, based at any of our schools.
Voluntary PA to the CEO - Two to three hours per day, or similar
Projects Intern - flexible hours unpaid intern to support work on our new free schools in the pre-opening phase, and our existing open free schools (the two that are open aren’t free schools) as they reach capacity. "We currently operate three (actually two) schools and will open two more across the next two years."

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 31/07/2018 - 08:25

Celia - this is extraordinary.   Asking for volunteers to commit to a large number of hours a week doing very responsible work (particularly when dealing with money) is unacceptable.  It's one thing to offer a short period of work experience (ie the internship which can be a minimum of one day, although anything less than 10 working days can't really be classed as work experience).  Quite another to expect the level of commitment, expertise and responsibility needed for the office jobs.

FEAT's accounts for year ending 31 August 2017 (available from Companies House) show two FEAT employees were paid between £60k and £70k, one was paid between £70k and £80k and one paid etween £120k and £130k.  These payments excluded pension contributions.  

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