Cameron gives green light to 18 new free school projects
David Cameron has reaffirmed his commitment to the Government's controversial free school programme as 18 new projects were given the green light.
The Prime Minister said ministers will push ahead with their pre-election pledge for 500 new free schools over the next five years - with two waves of new schools every year up to 2020.
The Conservatives argue free schools - set up by groups of parents, charities and other organisations - drive up standards and create more choice but critics say they lead to scarce resources being concentrated on a small number of institutions at the expense of the rest of the system.
Mr Cameron said: "The aim of this policy is crystal clear - to increase the number of good and outstanding school places so that more parents have the security of knowing their child is getting a great education.
"Today's announcement shows that we will not waver in pressing ahead with our plans to open 500 more of these innovative and exciting schools over the next five years."
The new schools include the Solihull Alternative Provision Academy for children who have fallen out of mainstream schooling, the CAPA College of performing arts in Leeds, and Gipsy Hill Secondary School in south London, which has a learning programme based around the ancient Greek "trivium" of logic, grammar and rhetoric.
Also on the list are the Piper Hill Vocational Learning Free School in Wythenshawe, Cheshire, for children with severe learning difficulties, and the XP East secondary school in Doncaster, which is based on a number of US charter schools.
Education Secretary Nicky Morgan said the Government had a "strong pipeline" of applications for free schools and she was confident it would reach the 500 figure.
Asked if the department was having troubling attracting decent applications, she said: "No, not at all, it's because the wave that we are announcing today, the applications were made just after the election, and I think a lot of people who were interested obviously were waiting to see what happened and the future of the programme.
"We've actually got a lot of interest and a strong pipeline."
She told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "There's a definite appetite out there."
Ms Morgan said the free school programme was about making sure every child had a "good school place to attend, with excellent teaching so they can fulfil their potential".
On the resource issue she said: "I think those who sort of say that we are only concentrating on this are wrong. Part of my task is to focus on teacher recruitment, making sure that all schools are good or outstanding and making sure we have enough school places right the way across the country too."
Asked if she was satisfied the programme allowed schools to be free without compromising on standards, she said there was a "very clear vetting process" in setting up a free school.
She said: "Ofsted inspect the schools before they open, they inspect them within or just after the first academic year of them being open, and then, as you say, we will step in if there are issues, and there have been, then we will as a department step in, working with these regional school commissioners around the country, to either change the leadership or, if we have to, to close a school because it is all about making sure every child gets a great school place."