Free schools come under fire for 'poor management'

The flagship free schools policy has been riddled with financial mismanagement and poor management, relying on whistleblowers to raise concerns, according to the Public Accounts Committee.

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'Less than half' of free schools submitted accounts

Under half of the UK's new free schools have submitted their accounts for the tax year 2011/12 to the Education Funding Agency (EFA), an influential group of MPs has warned.

The Public Accounts Committee was particularly critical of the following:

  • Al-Madinah School in Derby.
  • Discovery New School in Crawley, West Sussex, which was closed down last month.
  • Kings Science Academy in Bradford.
  • They said that these cases suggest that the Department for Education (DfE) and EFA's processes for overseeing free schools "are not yet working effectively to ensure that public money is used for the proper purpose".

Govt: Concerns about free schools 'misplaced'

The Government has dismissed criticisms of its rollout of free schools, claiming a scathing report by MPs into recent scandals is "misplaced".

A Department for Education spokeswoman said:

As the PAC has recognised we have made significant progress in implementing free schools, which are driving up educational standards and giving pupils from all backgrounds the chance to achieve academic excellence.

Many of the PAC's concerns are misplaced. Free schools are subject to greater scrutiny than council-run schools, they are overwhelmingly located in areas with a shortage of places, and construction costs are 45% lower than the previous school building programmes.

Those areas with a shortage of places but with no free schools receive extra basic need funding to make up for it.

– A Department for Education spokeswoman


MPs: Management at free schools 'not up to scratch'

Recent scandals around the Government's flagship free schools have shown how the management standards are "not up to scratch", according to the Chairwoman of an influential committee of MPs.

Public Accounts Committee Chair Margaret Hodge, Labour MP for Barking, said:

Recent high-profile failures at Al-Madinah School and Kings Science Academy demonstrate the DfE and the EFA's oversight arrangements for free schools are not yet working effectively to ensure public money is used properly.

The department and agency have set up an approach to oversight which emphasises schools' autonomy, but standards of financial management and governance in some free schools are clearly not up to scratch.

The agency relies on high levels of compliance by schools, yet fewer than half of free schools submitted their required financial returns for 2011-12 to the agency on time.

– Margaret Hodge

Free schools criticised for poor management

Poor financial management and bad governance are dragging down some free schools and leaving the Government to be overly reliant on whistleblowers to raise problems, an influential group of MPs has warned.

The Al-Madinah School in Derby had to stop teaching secondary school pupils in 2013 after failing Ofsted inspections.

The Public Accounts Committee raised concerns the Government did not have a clear idea of where taxpayers' money was being spent on the flagship policy.

There were also concerns over the lack of bids to open primary free schools in areas where more places for youngsters were desperately needed.

The report analyses the success and value for money of the free schools programme and says that the Government has made "clear progress" on the scheme - which is a key part of its education policy - by opening new schools quickly.

But it adds that the measures put in place for checking how these schools are run and whether money is being spent properly are not good enough.

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