THE division secretary for Warrington’s National Union of Teachers has voiced her concerns about the running of free schools following a report published by Public Accounts Committee.
Elizabeth Purnell described the report as a ‘damning indictment of the free school programme’, which paved the way for parents, teachers, charities and organisations to set up their own schools.
Championed by Education Secretary Michael Gove, he claimed the addition of free schools to the educational landscape would create more local competition and drive-up standards.
But in the report, it reveals the Department for Education has spent £1.1b of its budgeted £1.5b expenditure for free schools, which had been allocated up until March 2015, and warns that expenditure is likely to skyrocket as the programme’s capital costs escalate.
Mrs Purnell said: “It is extraordinary that the department has set no limit on how much it is willing to spend on free school premises.
“It would appear that there is no sum too large to lavish on free schools, a fact that most head teachers in schools desperate for repairs and renovation will greet with incredulity.
“The report also highlights the fact that standards of financial management and governance in some free schools are clearly woefully inadequate.”
In Warrington, the cost of the backlog in repairs has reached £42m in primary schools and £36m in high schools.
The former portfolio holder for children and young people’s services Clr Colin Froggatt (Poulton South – LAB) said: "Spending £10 million pound on King’s free school when currently there are over 1,000 spare secondary places in the town doesn't make sense. Even with the bulge in birth rate coming through existing Warrington schools would cope.
"The money would be better spent on expanding and improving our primary school provision and existing high schools, and on special educational needs where it is most needed.”
Clr Steve Parish (Bewsey and Whitecross - LAB) added: “It seems obvious that if you open a new school where there are already spare places, it will cause more spare places. It is not rocket science but it seems to be beyond Mr Gove.”
But the town’s first and only free school, King’s Leadership Academy, has hit back at these comments.
Chief executive Sir Iain Hall said the school is subject to independent audits each year and undergoes further financial checks if the spending pattern does not align with the national average spending data that the DfE has compiled.
He added: “Since its opening, the school has passed all of these financial checks and the academy’s finances are a matter of public record. We do not have any confidentiality clauses in staff contracts.
“King’s Leadership Academy has offered parents a different type of school in that it offers more hours of tuition each week as well as more pupil reports and parents’ evenings than is the norm in state funded school.
“Now entering our third year, although there are still vacant places in the present year seven and eight, we are proud to be oversubscribed in year seven for 2014 to 2015, demonstrating the parental demand for a school such as ours.”