Capital costs for a third of free schools opened in 2012 not known

Janet Downs's picture

It’s over six years since 55 free schools opened to huge fanfare.  The cost of each site and building should be known by now.

But capital costs for 18 of these free schools do not appear in figures updated in January.

Tauheedul Islam Boys’ High School, Blackburn, is missing because it’s still in temporary accommodation.   But that isn’t true of the rest.

Cobham Free School, which the Department for Education told me was still in temporary accommodation in November, appears in January’s list of free schools where work has been completed.  But figures are a little confused.  January’s data says Cobham Primary Free School, an all-through school with a capacity of 210, cost nearly £3.5m.  But the government’s database of schools (GIAS)* says Cobham Free School has room for 1008 pupils.

This raises the question of how reliable DfE figures are.

One school where capital costs are not known is Brook House Primary School, formerly Hartsbrook E-Act Free School.   There was some confusion in 2014 about whether Hartsbrook had closed or not following an inadequate Ofsted judgement under E-Act's watch. 

Lion Education Trust said Hartsbrook was closing and Lion would be opening a new school on its site.  The DfE denied this.  Confusion remains.  The GIAS record for Hartsbrook says it opened it 2012, was closed and transferred in 2014.  But the GIAS record for Brook House says Brook House opened in 2014 not 2012.  This is confirmed by Ofsted which says Brook House opened in 2014. 

Not all transferred free schools are closed and reopened when transferred to a new trust.  GIAS makes it clear Zaytouna Primary School, formerly Al-Madinah, was opened in 2012 despite being rebrokered to Transform Trust in September 2018.  The capital costs for Zaytouna are not included in the January figures perhaps because reconstruction of a car park was still ongoing in October 2018. 

Another 2012 school where capital costs are not revealed is The Minerva Academy, formerly CET Primary Westminster.  In 2014/15, CET Primary Westminster was transferred to Reach2, a rapidly growing academy trust which received £110k in transfer fees.  Minerva closed in August 2018 due to ‘the declining pupil roll’**.

The only valid reason why capital costs for free schools opened in 2012 should remain unpublished is if they’re still in temporary accommodation.  This only applies to Tauheedul Islam Boys’ High School.   Capital costs for the rest should be revealed without delay.  This applies particularly to the five free schools opened in 2011 where capital costs have still not been published.

A cynic might say the DfE is trying to hide capital costs.  A more likely explanation is that the Department’s record keeping is in chaos.  Just last week, TES reported how the DfE doesn’t know how much academy land it’s lost control of.   The Department should remember it is taxpayers’ money it’s spending.  Taxpayers need confidence that the DfE isn’t wasting this money and is keeping reliable accounts showing where it’s been spent.



*Get Information About Schools (GIAS)

**Reach2 accounts for year ending 31 August 2018

Share on Twitter Share on Facebook

Be notified by email of each new post.

Add new comment

Already a member? Click here to log in before you comment. Or register with us.