Anger over new free school set to be the most expensive in Britain

The Independent is reporting that Michael Gove has approved a plan to spend £45m on a free school, making it almost certainly the most expensive in the country even though it has just 500 students…

The cost of setting up the Harris Westminster Sixth Form for high-achieving students is six times the average cost of establishing a free school and equates to around £90,000 per pupil.

The decision comes months after the National Audit Office questioned the Government’s controversial free schools programme and accused the Department for Education of failing to exert control over its rising capital costs.

The Independent understands that the budget for this project – which is being sponsored by Westminster School – has been the subject of internal criticism within Whitehall.

Senior officials have privately questioned the value for money of the school which aims to send half of its pupils to Oxford or Cambridge and will prioritise children who are on subsidised school meals or who come from deprived areas, provided they first pass its selection test. The school said that of the 167 children offered places for its opening in September 61 per cent met those criteria.

But Margaret Hodge, chair of the Public Accounts Committee, described the expenditure as “outrageous”.

“This is nothing more than a vanity project that is taking precious resources away from areas which really need it in a time of austerity,” she said. Her own Barking constituency is “desperate for good quality school places for our children”, yet Mr Gove’s plans would only serve “a tiny number of pupils”, she said. “I’m all for helping children from disadvantaged backgrounds … but why does this school have to be in one of the most expensive areas of London?”

…But a spokeswoman for the DfE robustly defended the plans tonight. “This is an inspirational collaboration between the country’s top academy chain and one of the best private schools in the country,” she said. “It will give hundreds of children from low income families across London the kind of top quality sixth-form previously reserved for the better off.”…

More at: Exclusive: Anger over new free school set to be the most expensive in Britain

Presumably this school is going to be so expensive because of its location and the associated property costs? Would the project have been better suited in a less expensive part of London or is it wrong to imply that we shouldn’t build state schools in expensive areas? We covered a Times report earlier in the week showing this new school is attracting a very high number of applicants, many from disadvantaged backgrounds (see related articles below), so what do you think? Please let us know in the comments or via Twitter…

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Categories: Free Schools.


  1. andylutwyche

    SchoolsImprove This is shameless from Gove/DfE. Please remember that Harris is a Tory donor when reading this story. Cronyism at its worst

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