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Gibb’s claim of 41 closures appears to come from an out-of-date list used by the Department for Education, which misses the names of 14 schools identified in official DfE records as having closed.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 name Type Action
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
Daventry UTC UTC Closed
Greater Manchester UTC UTC Closed
Hackney UTC UTC Closed
UTC Lancashire 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
Heathrow UTC UTC Rebrokered
Medway UTC UTC Rebrokered
Sir Charles Kao UTC UTC Rebrokered
Tottenham UTC UTC Rebrokered
UTC MediacityUK UTC Rebrokered
UTC Plymouth UTC Rebrokered
UTC Swindon UTC Rebrokered

Source: Get Information About Schools/DfE

* Closed as a result of a merger

** Rebrokered, then closed