The Mirror has brought its readers another tale of woe from the much-vaunted Free School sector, telling readers “A brand new £4.2 million ‘free school’ set up to train the sports stars of tomorrow is to close after being branded inadequate by Ofsted, just 16 months after its grand opening. Tory School Standards Minister Nick Gibb toured Plymouth Studio School and cut the ribbon on the taxpayer-funded, state-of-the-art facility in December 2016. But today the Department for Education today agreed ‘in principle’ to shut the school down, at the request of the trust that runs it”. There was more.
“Parents had already raised serious concerns about the school before Mr Gibb visited … The school will be the 19th of its type to fold since they were introduced in 2010 … The Ofsted report … is understood to grade the school as inadequate, and identifies a string of teaching and safeguarding concerns … had three headteachers since it first launched”.
None of this will surprise Zelo Street regulars. There was the scandal of IES Breckland, a shambolic mess promoted enthusiastically by the loathsome Toby Young and his pal Fraser Nelson. And the Perry Beeches scandal in Birmingham - schools that had been endorsed by Young Dave and Michael “Oiky” Gove. Discovery New School near Crawley had set the ball rolling by shutting its doors in 2014. All wasted taxpayers’ money.
And it was the advocacy of Tobes that had driven the propaganda - telling anyone and everyone how wonderful Free Schools were. Except the budget for such schools had quickly spiralled out of control, going well over £1 billion over target by the end of 2013. By last year, the situation was so bad that then Education Secretary Justine Greening was having to raid other budgets to keep local authority schools going.
The waste was mounting up: the Independent told last May “Tens of millions wasted on free schools that closed or never opened amid 'unprecedented' funding crisis … At least £138.5 million spent on opening 62 free schools, university technical colleges (UTC) and studio schools that have either closed, partially closed, or failed to open at all”.
It got worse: the Guardian revealed that most of Ms Greening’s new cash for mainstream schools would “come from an unidentified £600m of new cuts to the central Department for Education budget”. And then came the giveaway: “A further £200m will come from the free schools budget by building 30 out of a planned 140 as local authority schools instead”.
In other words, building new local authority schools is better value for money than new Free Schools. More than £6.5 million per school better. You were told that Free Schools were better value for money than local authority ones? You were told a whopper.
And who has led the propaganda push for Free Schools? Step forward Toby Young, who has effectively admitted that a significant part of his motivation to set one up was because he couldn’t afford school fees for his four children but wanted them to go private.
What the Mirror has just reported is only the latest example of the waste that the Free Schools programme has produced. So while local authority schools have to beg money for essentials from parents, just remember whose vanity caused this mess.
The involvement of Toby Young in education policy has been a disaster. That is all.