More than 100 free schools take lessons in temporary sites

Gayathri | Thursday, December 22, 2016 9:06 AM IST

More than 100 free schools take lessons in temporary sites

Labour has accused the government of failing pupils after figures showed children at more than 100 free schools in England are doing lessons in temporary, makeshift buildings.

The figures revealed by the Department for Education show that about one in four free schools – set up independently by parents or community groups – do not have a permanent home.

One establishment has been in temporary accommodation for at least five years, and roughly half of all the 429 free schools in the country have been in makeshift buildings at some point.

Mike Kane, shadow schools minister, said it showed the government’s schools policy was in disarray.

“Their flagship policies are failing, and children and parents are paying the price,” he said. “Time and again ministers fixate on the name above the door rather than ensuring schools have the resources and teachers in the classroom to deliver an excellent education for all.

“Their free school failure means children in unsuitable temporary classrooms disrupting their education and threatening school standards.”

A Department for Education spokesperson disputed the accusations, saying free schools are creating thousands of good-quality school places for children, many in disadvantaged areas.

“In some cases, particularly in cities where property prices are at a premium, it can take time to secure a permanent, high-quality site that meets the needs of the school and provides value for the taxpayer,” the spokesman said.

“We are taking a number of steps to streamline the process for acquiring permanent sites, including the establishment of LocatED – a new public body with property expertise that will be responsible for securing free school sites quickly and more efficiently.”

The department said it has a stringent set of criteria to assess whether a school should open in temporary accommodation, based on examining the length of time it is likely to take to deliver the project’s permanent site, evaluating the viability of any proposed temporary solution, and testing whether there is clear evidence of demand for places in the area. It said all temporary accommodation is safe and suitable for educational purposes.

However, the DfE is understood to be looking to reduce the number of free schools going into temporary accommodation.

Free schools were brought in by former prime minister David Cameron and Michael Gove, then education secretary, who said they wanted to increase choice for parents.

Theresa May also backs free schools, saying they have been a huge success and are part of an education system fit for the future along with her plans to allow the expansion of grammar schools.

However, the government has been criticised by Labour for giving funding to free schools to be set up in areas where there are already enough school places.