Next wave of English free schools approved

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The next wave of free schools will provide another 69,000 places to keep up with a rising population

Another 131 free schools have been approved to open in England, creating about 69,000 places.

They will include a non-selective school in Dartford and a sixth form in north London specialising in film.

All new state schools are now opened under the free school scheme – which can be run by academy trusts, parents or community organisations.

The Education Secretary Justine Greening said they would help to “give parents more choices”.

The biggest number of these new schools will be in the south east, with more than 15,000 places in 27 schools, followed by almost 10,000 extra places in London in 18 schools, and 9,000 places in 12 schools in the west Midlands.

Earlier this month the government allocated £980m for 600,000 extra school places up to 2021, including those in the free school programme, drawing on funding announced from the 2015 spending review.

These places are needed to provide education for a rising school-age population.

If the government achieves its separate aim of opening a new generation of grammar schools, then the next wave of free schools could include selective places.

New educational landscape

In this latest announcement, the Endeavour Multi-Academy Trust, which runs two grammar schools, is to open a non-selective secondary free school in Dartford.

Among the new schools will be Working Title, a sixth form in north London specialising in film.

There will also be St Bede’s Inter-Church School, a secondary school in Cambridgeshire, supported by both Anglican and Catholic dioceses.

And there will also be 4,000 places created in schools for special needs pupils.

Toby Young, director of the New Schools Network which promotes the setting up of free schools, said: “With 800 either opened or approved to open, providing 400,000 places when full, free schools are now a permanent part of England’s educational landscape.”

But Labour’s shadow education secretary, Angela Rayner, criticised this development, saying: “The free schools programme has been proven to be an enormously expensive and inefficient way to create school places.

“The Tories need to look again at school place planning, and makes sure that taxpayers are getting value for money.”

A recent report from the National Audit Office questioned the cost of free schools and purchasing of land.

It reported that opening 833 free schools by 2021 would cost £9.7bn.

Education Secretary Justine Greening said the new schools would “give us the school places we need for the future, and they also give parents more choices to find a great school place in their area that’s right for their child”.

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