Five free schools cost more than £30m, new figures show

academy trust

New figures have revealed five free schools cost more than £30 million to set up.

The Department for Education (DfE) today released its latest batch of figures for the amount of capital funding spent on free schools, University Technical Colleges (UTCs) and studio schools.

It reveals for the first time the DfE’s capital spend on some free schools which opened almost a decade ago.

The most expensive free school from the new batch is Nishkam School West London, which opened in Hounslow in 2013, and cost £45 million – of which £18 million was to buy the site alone.

Harris Westminster Sixth Form remains the most expensive free school at £49,957,001 – but details on its capital expenditure were published last year.

However, the remaining top five most expensive free school builds were revealed in the DfE’s latest publication.

Bobby Moore Academy, which opened in Newham in 2017, cost £38 million.

In this case the acquisition of the site was comparatively cheap – at £392,635 – however construction costs set the DfE back an additional £37 million.

Avanti House School, which opened in Harrow in 2012, cost £36.6 million.

Meanwhile, West London Free School, set up by Toby Young in 2011, cost £30.6 million – with the split between site acquisition and construction costs at around £15 million each. It is not known why the costs have only been published nine years later.

Elsewhere, the new figures show that since 2018/19 the government spent £1.7 million on free schools which did not open – with Durham Gateway Academy alone receiving £214,689.

The data also shows the DfE spent £101 million on 10 UTCs which opened between 2013 and 2017.

Of these Sir Simon Milton Westminster University Technical College which opened in 2017 cost the most at £15,739,942 – however only £30,297 of this was spent on acquiring the site.

Another £1.7m spent on free schools that didn’t open

The government’s spend on free schools have been under scrutiny in recent years.

The government’s spending watchdog, the National Audit Office, previously accused the government of wasting taxpayers’ money after finding more than half of new free school places were in areas they were “not needed”.

The NAO found 57,500 of 113,500 new places in mainstream free schools opening between 2015 and 2021 will create ‘spare capacity’.

It also warned scarcity of land for new free schools is pushing capital spend into the tens of millions of pounds after capital spend reached £4.5 billion in 2015-16.

Additionally, last year the NAO revealed struggling UTCs account for almost 10 per cent of revenue deficits by all academy trusts after deficits doubled in just four years.

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  1. The figures show £20m was spent on Atlantic Academy (formerly Route39) opened in 2013 despite there being surplus places nearby and local opposition. It closed for a ‘fresh start’ in September 2018 after being found inadequate. Its first GCSE cohort took no GCSEs as they weren’t ready.
    At the end of five years, Route39 had just 154 pupils in a school with 700 capacity (this has subsequently been reduced to 500).
    It could be argued that this school should not have gone ahead at all.

  2. The Minerva Academy, formerly CET Westminster which opened in 2012, cost £3.6m. Not a huge amount except it’s now closed. It was transferred to REAch2 in 2014/15 with a transfer grant of £110k. It closed in August 2018 unable to recruit sufficient pupils after what a local paper described as ‘six chaotic years’.