The National Union of Teachers says the government has spent £138 million on schools which are now closed, or never opened.Read the full story ›
A further 22 free schools have been will soon be open - creating 18,000 more school places across the country, Education Secretary Nicky Morgan has announced.
Free schools are newly established schools set up by groups such as teachers, parents, businesses and academy chains, with freedom over areas such as the curriculum.
Among those approved are two academies - one in Tower Hamlets, London and the other in Bournemouth - set up by Ian Livingstone, a founder of the Games Workshop who advised the Government on the computer curriculum.
The 'Livingstone Academies' will focus on science, technology, engineering, arts and maths, the Department for Education said.
"Free schools are offering a rigorous education in communities which have never before had the opportunity of a good local school.
Parents are flocking to them in their droves - and today's announcement means that over 18,000 more children can benefit from a place in a free school.
With leading entrepreneur Ian Livingstone stepping up to open two schools, the free schools programme is proving to be a vital outlet for our society's most creative and innovative people to spread their excellence to future generations.
There are also plans to set up a new body of property experts to help find more sites for free schools, the Education Secretary said.
The general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers Dr Mary Bousted has claimed the DfE has "overspent its free schools budget by £1bn".
ATL believes that the cost of setting up these schools is diverting money that is desperately needed by existing schools - the DfE overspent its free schools budget by £1bn and has had to claw that money back from elsewhere in the education system.
We are concerned that more than 20% of free schools have been established in areas where there is no shortage of school places and, since they are not part of the local authorities' planning procedure, they make it difficult for parents to get their child into a local school of their choice.
A Department for Eduation spokesman said: "We have made an additional £5 billion of funding available in this Parliament alone to councils to create new school places - double the amount spent by the previous government over the same period. This is in addition to the budget for free schools."
The DfE said the latest approvals means there are now 331 open and approved free schools across the country, creating 175,000 school places.
The popularity of free schools around the country shows no sign of abating - be that from groups wanting to set up new schools or from parents wanting to secure a place for their child.
Just as importantly, these schools are outperforming other state schools.
Free schools inspected so far were more than twice as likely to be judged 'outstanding' as other state schools.
Among the latest schools to be approved are the LIPA Sixth Form College, which is being established by the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts, a specialist centre founded 18 years ago by Sir Paul McCartney, and The Powerlist Post 16 Leadership College in Lambeth, south London.
The Government has announced a further 38 new free schools have been approved to open. The majority are expected to open their doors in September 2015, with half due to be set up in the most deprived communities in England.
The 38 new schools will collectively offer 22,000 places.
Education Secretary Michael Gove insisted that free schools were giving children from "ordinary backgrounds" the type of education "previously reserved for the rich and the lucky".
He said: "Thanks to our free school programme, many more parents now have a new school in their neighbourhood offering high standards and tough discipline.
"Free schools put teachers - not bureaucrats and politicians - in the driving seat, as they are the ones who know their pupils best."
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".
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.
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.
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 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.
A Government free school which allegedly saw pupils "taught nothing" for a term will today be used as an example of a failing in Education Secretary's Michael Gove's landmark project.
The annual conference of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) in Birmingham will today hear evidence that, after a term at the school, pupils were "precisely one term behind where they should have been".
Russell Hobby, the general secretary of the NAHT, will cite Discovery New School in Crawley, West Sussex, as an example of "the dangers of poorly thought through policy, rushed in to be able to claim a result".
The school was closed last month after Ofsted inspectors said its teaching left pupils "in danger of leaving school without being able to read and write properly".
A spokesperson for the Department for Education said action had been taken to close Discovery New School because standards were "simply not good enough" but added: "There are more than 170 free schools around the country and the vast majority are performing well."