The government’s flagship free schools programme is creating an unnecessary educational crisis with more than four-fifths of those opened this year having failed to attract enough pupils to fill their classrooms, the shadow education secretary, Tristram Hunt, has claimed.
Hunt said the controversial independent schools were opening in areas where there were already enough school places, leaving those that lack capacity still under-resourced.
The findings come as a result of freedom of information request submitted by Labour to the 79 free schools that opened last year. Of the 69 that responded, just 12 were full while the remainder – 83% – had 2,564 unfilled places among them.
The FoI figures revealed that the Discovery School in Newcastle opened with only a third of its planned pupil numbers, the Harris Academy in Tottenham, north London, opened with 58 pupils, rather than the planned 240, and the Trinity Academy in Lambeth, south London, opened with 15 pupils when it had planned to admit 120.
“David Cameron has created a crisis in school places, diverting millions away from children in areas with a shortage of school places in order to open pet project free schools in areas where there are already enough places,” said Hunt.
“This is affecting standards in schools, with class sizes soaring, pupils being taught in makeshift temporary classrooms, and children having to travel further and further to get to school.
“Unlike David Cameron, Labour has the right priorities for driving up school standards. We will prioritise new school places in areas where there are shortages, have rigorous local oversight of schools and ensure that all teachers have or are working towards qualified teacher status.”
Free schools are funded by central government and are independent of the local council in their area. The schools can be set up on a non-profit basis by parents and teachers or groups such as charities, universities, faith groups or businesses.
A Department for Education spokesman described the figures as misleading, adding that it was “normal for any new school to take time to establish itself”.
Free schools’ failure to attract pupils is creating educational crisis, says Labour © Guardian News & Media Ltd