The latest news from the National Audit Office, 11th December 2013, is that the government’s flagship free school programme will cost at least three times the sum originally planned and allocated for it. The NAO says that so far the programme has prioritised speed over value for money, and that many schools were not in areas of need. “Many schools have been established quickly and at relatively low cost” but the DfE needs to “systematically respond to emerging risks”. The report confirms that many free schools have opened in areas where there is little or no pressure on school places.
The report goes on to state that the DfE received no applications to open primary free schools in half of all the districts with high or severe need for school places. Local councils have to invite free school or academy providers to bid to set up new schools, so their hands are tied in responding to local school pupil places pressures.
The government insists that free schools offer value for money, and the Department for Education points out that free schools had cut the cost of building new schools by a huge 45%, compared to previous school building programmes.
This Audit Office report confirms once again that a shortage of primary school places is predicted in more than half of all school districts by 2015. Public Accounts Committee chairwoman Margaret Hodge said: “350,000 extra school places are needed by September 2015. At a time when money is tight, it is essential that resources are directed at areas of greatest need for places.”
From our perspective one thing is certain … as the school building programme adjusts to better match the need for large increases in school places in specific areas, bespoke high quality educational modular buildings such as our Clearview range will be essential in creating the extra accommodation at a realistic cost.