Neither ministers nor the opposition are giving the full picture when it comes to free school closures, analysis by Schools Week shows.
There have been conflicting claims in the past few weeks about the number that have closed since the programme began, but few claims are backed by official government statistics.
On November 29, Mike Kane, the shadow schools minister, told the House of Commons that “more than 100 free schools that opened only in the past couple of years have now closed, wasting hundreds of millions of pounds in this failed programme”.
And on December 5, Nick Gibb, his opposite number, told a Westminster Hall debate that 41 schools had closed: 13 free schools, seven university technical colleges and 21 studio schools.
To add to the confusion, the New Schools Network, the government-funded charity that helps to set up free schools, insists that just 21 have closed, including eight “which have since reopened under new leadership”.
What’s the right figure?
According to official government data, 55 mainstream and alternative provision free schools, UTCs and studio schools have closed since the start of the free schools programme in 2010.
Of these, 40 have closed completely and 15 have been rebrokered to new sponsors, which technically counts as a closure, according to the government.
Debunking the conflicting numbers
Labour’s claim that more than 100 free schools have closed is similar to one made on Twitter by union figures. However, this is understood to include 44 proposed projects that never came to fruition.
When challenged on December 5 by Gibb, Kane pointed to the schools previously run by the Wakefield City Academies Trust, which shed all of its schools after a financial crisis.
However, the trust did not run any free schools.
Labour was asked to back up Kane’s claims with statistics, but had not responded by the time Schools Week went to press.
Gibb’s claim of 41 closures appears to come from an out-of-date list used by the Department for Education, which misses the names of 14 schools identified in official DfE records as having closed.
Schools Week understands the missing schools were not considered closed because they reopened under new sponsors. However, the department did include Tottenham UTC on its list, which was rebrokered last year and reopened as the London Academy of Excellence.
The DfE would not explain the discrepancy.
Meanwhile, the New Schools Network (NSN) list omits UTCs and studio schools, but does include rebrokered free schools.
A NSN spokesperson said: “We know that mistakes were made in the early years of the policy, and lessons have been learned from this.
“Despite the obstacles free schools have faced, they have proven themselves to be overwhelmingly successful from primary through to sixth form and, as a result, they are hugely popular with parents, teachers and the communities they serve.”
Free school closures: The definitive list
|Dawes Lane Academy||AP free school||Closed|
|Bolton Wanderers Free School||Free school||Closed|
|Collective Spirit Free School||Free school||Closed|
|Discovery New School||Free school||Closed|
|Discovery School||Free school||Closed|
|Durham Free School||Free school||Closed|
|Floreat Brentford Primary School||Free school||Closed|
|Minerva Academy||Free school||Closed|
|Robert Owen Academy||Free school||Closed|
|Southwark Free School||Free school||Closed|
|St Anthony’s Primary School||Free school||Closed|
|St Michael’s Catholic Secondary School*||Free school||Closed|
|Stockport Technical School||Free school||Closed|
|Bradford Studio School||Studio school||Closed|
|Create Studio School||Studio school||Closed|
|Da Vinci Creative Enterprise||Studio school||Closed|
|Da Vinci Science and Engineering||Studio school||Closed|
|Devon Studio School||Studio school||Closed|
|Durham Studio School||Studio school||Closed|
|Future Tech Studio||Studio school||Closed|
|Hull Studio School||Studio school||Closed|
|Hyndburn Studio School||Studio school||Closed|
|Inspire Enterprise Academy||Studio school||Closed|
|Kajans Hospitality and Catering Studio School||Studio school||Closed|
|Manchester Creative Studio||Studio school||Closed|
|Midland Studio College Hinckley||Studio school||Closed|
|Midland Studio College Nuneaton||Studio school||Closed|
|New Campus Basildon Studio School**||Studio school||Closed|
|Plymouth Studio School||Studio school||Closed|
|Rye Studio School||Studio school||Closed|
|Stoke Studio College||Studio school||Closed|
|Tendring Enterprise Studio School||Studio school||Closed|
|The Studio School Luton||Studio school||Closed|
|Vision Studio School||Studio school||Closed|
|Black Country UTC||UTC||Closed|
|Central Bedfordshire UTC||UTC||Closed|
|Greater Manchester UTC||UTC||Closed|
|Channeling Positivity||AP free school||Rebrokered|
|CUL Academy Trust||AP free school||Rebrokered|
|Atlantic Academy||Free school||Rebrokered|
|Harpenden Free School||Free school||Rebrokered|
|Hartsbrook E-Act Free School||Free school||Rebrokered|
|Parkfield School||Free school||Rebrokered|
|Royal Greenwich Trust School Academy||Free school||Rebrokered|
|University Church Free School||Free school||Rebrokered|
|Sir Charles Kao UTC||UTC||Rebrokered|
Source: Get Information About Schools/DfE
* Closed as a result of a merger
** Rebrokered, then closed