EXCLUSIVE: One-fifth of free schools are in temporary accommodation

Janet Downs's picture


106 out of the just over 500 free schools* which have opened are in temporary accommodation, Freedom of Information shows.  

43 of these opened recently in 2017 and 2018.  But two free schools have been waiting six years for permanent buildings.   Tauheedul Islam Boys’ High School, Blackburn, has been in temporary accommodation since it opened. Work was due to begin on a permanent home in March. 

Cobham Free School, Surrey, opened in 2012, moved into a former police station in 2103.       Since then it’s become an all-through school operating on three sites.  It’s hoped the junior and secondary phases will move to a permanent home in September 2019 while the infant department remains in the former police station.

Eleven 2013 openers still lack a permanent base

Eleven free schools opened in 2013 are still in temporary buildings.  One, Abacus Belsize, Camden, originally shared a building with ‘other users’ when Ofsted arrived in May 2015.   Inspectors said the school would move to a temporary location in September 2015 before moving again to permanent buildings in 2017. 

But the move didn’t happen

The permanent site, the former Hampstead police station, had been bought by the Department for Education (DfE) for £14.1m for use by Abacus Belsize.  But the council turned down plans to convert the Grade 2 listed building into a 420-capacity primary school.     The Heath and Hampstead Society continues to oppose the plan despite the school’s capacity being reduced to 210.  Consultations about the revised plan took place in October.

Thirteen schools opened in 2014 still in temporary buildings

Thirteen free schools opened in 2014 have been in temporary accommodation for more than four years.  These include Earl’s Court Free School Primary run by the flagship Knowledge Schools Trust founded by journalist Toby Young.

One 2014 opener still without a permanent base is Braywick Court School, Maidenhead, run by Bellevue Place Education Trust (BPET).  It spent its first two years in temporary buildings before moving to another site pending construction work.   This stopped in June 2017 when the contractor withdrew.    

In June 2018, BPET said work would restart with an expected completion date of September 2019.    Parents were invited to an on-site meeting with the ‘preferred contractor’ in July.

It appears the preferred contractor is Interserve: the firm has removed spoil from the site.    

If Interserve is the preferred contractor, then it raises the question why it was awarded a contract when the Cabinet Office had given Interserve a ‘red’ rating for ‘significant material concerns’ in late 2017.   

Shares in Interserve plunged on Black Friday amid fears it was heading towards a Carillion-style disaster.    This potentially puts public contracts with Interserve, including school construction, at risk.

Seva School, Coventry, also opened in 2014, is currently at the centre of a row about which multi-academy trust should take over the inadequate school.  

Taxpayers’ money is wasted on supplying temporary accommodation before new buildings are constructed.  Pupils can be stuck in temporary buildings not just for months but for years.  This is unacceptable.


CORRECTION 10 December 2018, 11.15   The proportion of free schools in temporary accommodation in the headline has been changed to 'one-fifth' from 'one quarter'.  The number of open free schools has been changed from 400+ to 500+.  Get Information About Schools, the official schools database, lists 519 free schools including UTCs and studio schools.  My original, incorrect, figure came from data on the New Schools Network which said (and still says) there are 393 open free schools.  I foolishly assumed the New Schools Network would have given the correct number.  After all, it's supposed to be the 'go to' website for information about free schools.

Thanks to Schools Week for printing the correct information.  

ADDENDUM 13 December 2018.  We have received an email from Martyn McCarthy, a director of Cobham Free School Trust, about the above article which was referenced in Schools Week.  The full text is below:

'Hi, I’ve just read an article in Schools Week and you are quoted as the source... your recent article by Janet Downs; “One-fifth of free schools are in temporary accommodation”. 

You’ve quoted Cobham Free School as one of two free schools in temporary accommodation for six years. This is inaccurate. My son is currently in Year 11 at CFS and was in the initial Yr 7. 

You’re correct, in that the school uses three sites. However, two are permanent - the primary school site in the Old Police Station in Cobham and a small additional site they use a couple of hundred metres away in an old church hall. The smaller site is only used for music lessons. So Reception to Year 6 are accommodated on a permanent site. 

I believe that you’re referring to the senior department when you claim that they’ve been in temporary accommodation for six years. They are indeed on a temporary site in Molesey, acquired on lease from Surrey County Council when Hurst Park Primary School vacated the site for a new purpose-built site nearby. 

The secondary department only opened in September 2014 with the initial Year 7. For the first year they were in the old police station building in Cobham owned by the school, with Reception to Year 6 children, so technically on a permanent site. They moved to the current temporary site in Sept 2015, three years ago. Even if you use the date when the secondary department opened - that’s four years, not six. 

You did mention correctly that Key Stages 2 to 4 are moving to the new permanent site in Cobham. The permanent site is in fact already owned by the school, acquired by the DfE last year. Additionally, the sixth form will be opening at the permanent site in Sept 2019.'  End of email


*including University Technology Colleges and studio schools

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