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DfE signs off delivery of 131 free schools

The Department for Education has waved through 131 schools to be delivered under its controversial free schools programme.

A total of 111 free schools – which are set up and run by community groups outside of the national curriculum – have been signed off by the DfE today.

In addition, 20 local authorities have been given approval to build one special school in their area that will be delivered under the free schools programme. These councils will run a competition to find a trust to set up and run these 20 special schools, which will be free schools in themselves.

The 111 free schools that have been approved are located in the following areas:

  • 27 in the South-east
  • 18 in the East of England
  • 16 in London
  • 15 in the South-west 
  • 12 in the West Midlands
  • 9 in the East Midlands
  • 7 in Yorkshire and the Humber
  • 5 in the North-west
  • 2 in the North-east

A DfE spokesman said that, in the vast majority of cases, sites for these schools have not been confirmed. 

He said sites will be announced on a case-by-case basis, with some expected to be revealed imminently.

All schools under the free school programme are expected to be delivered through the Education and Skills Funding Agency’s flagship £8bn national construction framework, which is currently out for tender.

A contract notice was issued for the framework in April following a significant delay.

Construction News understands a contract notice for the framework was to be released imminently following a bidders day earlier in March, but contractors were left waiting until April.

One contractor source told CN last month that the delay in launching bidding on the framework had been “frustrating” and would “put the ESFA under huge pressure to get a framework in place for a November deadline”.

The DfE’s property arm, LocatED, is in charge of identifying and purchasing sites for free schools.

It has a budget of £2bn to open 500 free schools by the end of this parliament.

LocatED chief executive told Construction News earlier this month the company had already started to buy sites for free schools.

It has already exchanged on five sites but it is not known where these are located.

LocatED was formally launched in March this year having been set up by the DfE to purchase sites for free schools more cost-effectively.

A National Audit Office report into free schools in February revealed the cost of the government’s free school programme had spiralled. 

The DfE had initially estimated in 2010 that the programme would cost £900m and deliver 315 free schools.

However, by March 2015 the programme’s costs had ballooned to £1.8bn, with only 305 free schools opened.

In addition, the DfE had spent an average of 19 per cent more on land for free schools than what was originally valued.

Special school locations

The 20 special schools that have been approved are located in the following areas:

  • Bedford
  • Blackpool
  • Bradford
  • Bristol
  • Cheshire East
  • Croydon
  • Doncaster
  • Enfield
  • Essex
  • Hampshire
  • Havering
  • Hereford
  • Hounslow
  • Manchester
  • Portsmouth
  • Redbridge
  • Sheffield
  • South Gloucestershire
  • Suffolk
  • Sunderland

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