Fact check: How many free schools have actually closed?

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.


The claims

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Gibb’s claim of 41 closures appears to come from an out-of-date list used by the Department for Education, which misses the names of 14 schools identified in official DfE records as having closed.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

School nameTypeAction
Dawes Lane AcademyAP free schoolClosed
Bolton Wanderers Free SchoolFree schoolClosed
Collective Spirit Free SchoolFree schoolClosed
Discovery New SchoolFree schoolClosed
Discovery SchoolFree schoolClosed
Durham Free SchoolFree schoolClosed
Floreat Brentford Primary SchoolFree schoolClosed
Minerva AcademyFree schoolClosed
Robert Owen AcademyFree schoolClosed
Southwark Free SchoolFree schoolClosed
St Anthony’s Primary SchoolFree schoolClosed
St Michael’s Catholic Secondary School*Free schoolClosed
Stockport Technical SchoolFree schoolClosed
Bradford Studio SchoolStudio schoolClosed
Create Studio SchoolStudio schoolClosed
Da Vinci Creative EnterpriseStudio schoolClosed
Da Vinci Science and EngineeringStudio schoolClosed
Devon Studio SchoolStudio schoolClosed
Durham Studio SchoolStudio schoolClosed
Future Tech StudioStudio schoolClosed
Hull Studio SchoolStudio schoolClosed
Hyndburn Studio SchoolStudio schoolClosed
Inspire Enterprise AcademyStudio schoolClosed
Kajans Hospitality and Catering Studio SchoolStudio schoolClosed
Manchester Creative StudioStudio schoolClosed
Midland Studio College HinckleyStudio schoolClosed
Midland Studio College NuneatonStudio schoolClosed
New Campus Basildon Studio School**Studio schoolClosed
Plymouth Studio SchoolStudio schoolClosed
Rye Studio SchoolStudio schoolClosed
Stoke Studio CollegeStudio schoolClosed
Tendring Enterprise Studio SchoolStudio schoolClosed
The Studio School LutonStudio schoolClosed
Vision Studio SchoolStudio schoolClosed
Black Country UTCUTCClosed
Central Bedfordshire UTCUTCClosed
Daventry UTCUTCClosed
Greater Manchester UTCUTCClosed
Hackney UTCUTCClosed
UTC LancashireUTCClosed
Channeling PositivityAP free schoolRebrokered
CUL Academy TrustAP free schoolRebrokered
Atlantic AcademyFree schoolRebrokered
Harpenden Free SchoolFree schoolRebrokered
Hartsbrook E-Act Free SchoolFree schoolRebrokered
Parkfield SchoolFree schoolRebrokered
Royal Greenwich Trust School AcademyFree schoolRebrokered
University Church Free SchoolFree schoolRebrokered
Heathrow UTCUTCRebrokered
Medway UTCUTCRebrokered
Sir Charles Kao UTCUTCRebrokered
Tottenham UTCUTCRebrokered
UTC MediacityUKUTCRebrokered
UTC PlymouthUTCRebrokered
UTC SwindonUTCRebrokered

Source: Get Information About Schools/DfE

* Closed as a result of a merger

** Rebrokered, then closed

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