The prime minister has re-launched the latest free school application round – more than seven months after it was first announced.
Boris Johnson has this evening called for “parents, educational groups and community organisations” to bid to set up new free schools in wave 14 of the programme.
Wave 14 was first launched in January by former education secretary Damian Hinds, and applications were supposed to open in the spring with a deadline of September 30.
However, despite the publication of detailed guidance for applicants in April, the application process never actually opened, and a deadline extension until November 11 was announced in July.
Ahead of a visit to a London primary school today, Johnson said free schools schools “help to ensure children are getting the best education possible – offering exceptional teaching, encouraging strong discipline and providing families with more choices”.
“I want to see even more of these excellent schools open, particularly in areas most in need of more good and outstanding school places.”
However, the announcement is likely to come as a disappointment to campaigners for improved alternative provision who had hoped for guarantees that AP schools would be among those approved. Not one of the 22 free schools approved in wave 13 was an AP school, despite a pledge from the government to focus on the sector.
Instead, the government has simply said that it “particularly encourages applications from parts of the country that have not previously benefited, as well as alternative provision and special schools”.
The prime minister’s focus on “parents, educational groups and community organisations” is also likely to be taken with a pinch of salt. All 22 of the previous wave’s successful bids were from established schools or trusts.
Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, accused the government of “throwing taxpayers’ money at its pet project”.
“The government’s academy and free schools programme is in crisis,” she said. “Almost 70 ‘orphan schools’ do not have a sponsor and yet the government recklessly wants to expand the programme.
“The most sensible and financially sound way to get new school places in the areas and phases of education that most need them is to allow local authorities to establish new maintained schools and to give them the legal powers to instruct academies and free schools to expand where they have the capacity to do so.
“Instead the government’s reckless approach is to invest millions of pounds in new schools regardless of local need.”