A property company set up by the Department for Education to find homes for free schools expects that 150 of the sites it will purchase by 2019 will only be temporary.
This revelation comes despite the business case for the company, LocatED, stating that “reducing the need for temporary accommodation” for free schools was a key driver for setting it up.
A section of the 133-page business-case document – obtained under the Freedom of Information Act – that the DfE attempted to censor, reveals that these temporary sites cost on average about £500,000.
This suggests that £75 million will be spent on buildings that will only ever be a short-term solution.
Meg Hillier, chair of the House of Commons public accounts committee, said the findings highlight a serious problem, and warned that “in 10 years’ time, this will be the next scandal”.
Last year, a Tes analysis found that a significant number of free schools had been in temporary accommodation for at least two years longer than planned.
They included a school that was found by Ofsted to have no toilets for disabled pupils, and another that had to find £40,000 a year for buses to take pupils to off-site lessons, due to space restrictions in its temporary building.
Today's news follows a major Tes investigation into LocatED, which has also uncovered:
- Secret plans to "share rewards" from building free schools with private developers
- Special arrangements that allow LocatED to pay staff more than the prime minister and an exemption from the public sector pay cap
- The cost of LocatED's own prime central London office accommodation
Shadow education secretary Angela Rayner said the findings called into question whether LocatED provides value for its £2 billion budget.
She says: “On one hand, we keep being told that there’s not enough money, but on the other, the DfE seems content to throw millions at a project that won’t even be fulfilling its job properly. This is an outrageous waste of funds that should be going into frontline teaching.
“The Tories appear content to allow children to learn in unsuitable temporary classrooms, which is disrupting education and threatening school standards.”
LocatED was contacted for comment.
The DfE argued that it is often better, or at least unavoidable, to provide a short-term solution for schools in areas that urgently need more places.
A spokesperson said: “Opening schools on temporary sites allows schools to get up and running, particularly in areas where more school places are needed. This is preferable to delaying a school’s opening.”
This is an edited article from the 1 September edition of Tes. Subscribers can read the full articles here and here. This week's Tes magazine is available in all good newsagents. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here