Today’s NAO report on free schools has recognised the ‘clear progress’ we have made opening 174 schools in three years with significantly lower costs than Labour’s school programmes. But, as Isabel Hardman, Toby Young and Policy Exchange’s Jonathan Simons have pointed out, instead of reading the report the BBC and PAC Chairwoman Margaret Hodge have chosen to ignore the facts.
The BBC’s headline claims ‘free school costs budget trebled to £1.5bn, says report.’ But the NAO report states that ‘many new schools have been established quickly and at relatively low cost’. At £6.6 million per school, free schools are being delivered at a fraction of the costs of Labour’s Building Schools for the Future scheme which cost £25 million per school. As the NAO’s report recognises, we have also cut the cost of building a new school by around 45% compared to previous school building programmes.
The BBC also claims that ‘schools were not always where places were most needed’ and Margaret Hodge has said ‘The Department has got to be much more rigorous about how it assesses applications for free schools and prioritises need and value for money.’ But again, the NAO confirms that 7 in 10 free schools are opening in areas facing a shortage of school places. And we are also spending £5 billion on new school places in areas where there is a shortage – more than double the amount spent by Labour over an equivalent four year period. Labour did nothing to create new primary school places – in fact they cut 200,000 places in the middle of a baby boom. Yet again, Labour have the nerve to blame this Government for a problem they created and can now do nothing but snipe from the sidelines about our successes.
It’s especially bizarre to see Margaret Hodge attacking free schools when last year she called for £25 million to set up a free school in her constituency. Now she says she only supported a free school because her area needs more places. But the Department for Education has provided £140 million for extra school places in Barking, double the £66 million Labour gave over an equivalent period. This £140 million can be spent on expanding any type of school – not just academies or free schools.
Clearly Margaret Hodge agrees – or at least she did last year – with parents across the country who recognise the strong discipline and teaching excellence free schools deliver. She said she wanted a free school because children ‘deserve the best possible education.’ She was right to recognise the high quality education provided by free schools. As this report says, three-quarters of the free schools inspected have been rated good or outstanding and the longer they have been open the more popular they have become.
That’s why we want to open many more high quality free schools. So that every child has the chance to go to an excellent local school and receive, as Margaret Hodge says, ‘the best possible education.’Tags: Education, Free schools, Margaret Hodge