Around 25 free schools have been delayed in opening in the last three years, an exclusive report by Schools Week has found.
The numbers, obtained via a freedom of information request, show that a total of seventy four free schools have delayed in opening over the past three years, due to a variety of obstacles.
Most of the delays were due to problems finding appropriate sites. This problem has prompted the Department for Education to reform how it allocates opening dates for new schools.
One school is set for a six-year delay in opening due to insufficient demand for new school places in the local area. Ark North Enfield academy was given the greenlight to open in 2014, but is now expected to be up and running from 2020.
A government source has said that a new common sense approach to giving the go ahead to new schools, would ensure a suitable site was secured and planning permission granted before an opening date was set, to avoid lengthy delays.
A department spokesperson said:
“To maintain these high standards, schools open only when we are confident they are in a strong position to provide an excellent education to all pupils from day one.”
Labour’s shadow education secretary, Angela Rayner had previously criticised how the Conservative party had implemented its free school policy, calling the plans “chaos”. The government responded that its process was rigorous, to ensure that only the highest quality free schools were allowed to open.
The governments own figures show that two primary schools run by the Floreat trust, established by former David Cameron aide Lord O’Shaughnessy, were delayed in opening this year. The schools, earmarked for sites in Colindale and Southhall, will now open next year. The Harris Trust, which runs a number of academies in the UK, has had six delayed openings.
Delayed openings can also be signs of other problems. Numerous delayed free schools have been cancelled altogether, including Harperbury Free School, which had been due to to open in 2017. The government had spent £1.9 million on the project.
A spokesperson for Ark, another large proprietor of academies, commented:
“The difference between the expected open and the original announcement can reflect any number of issues, including difficulties securing appropriate sites, programme delays, or a change in the expected pupil numbers in an area.