And the government has written off another £1.3 million for schools that have struggled to recruit pupils or have closed, a Freedom of Information response from the Department for Education reveals.
The most recent write-off was for the troubled Collective Spirit free school in Oldham, which closed at very short notice last summer after it had been placed in special measures the year before. It had £248,661 written off in 2016-17 – the latest year for which figures are available.
In 2016-17 alone, 138 free schools had to pay back a combined £11.9 million as a result of these “pupil number adjustments” (PNAs). That represents 29 per cent of the 473 free schools open as of September 2017.
But the actual proportion is likely to be significantly higher because the 138 does not include university technical colleges. It also only covers a single year, as the FoI response did not allow the calculation of a reliable combined figure for all four years.
National Education Union joint general secretary Mary Bousted said: “These figures show that parents aren’t attracted or sending their children to free schools in sufficient numbers that fulfil the schools’ contract with the DfE.
“And that raises clear questions about the need for these schools in their [areas] and whether there aren’t far more efficient and effective ways for schools to meet the needs of the population.”
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