Boris Johnson vows to create thousands more school places in bid to 'drive up standards'
Boris Johnson has announced plans to create thousands of new school places in a bid to "drive up education standards".
The Prime Minister urged parents and educational groups to apply for the next wave of free schools - which are independently run by funded by the state.
Over 500 free schools have opened since the policy was announced in 2010, with 40% of them located in the 30% most deprived parts of the country.
A further 30 schools are due be approved in November, with ministers set to prioritise applications for "alternative provision" schools for children who have been expelled, along with those for young people with special needs.
But education union leaders hit back at the plans as they accused the Prime Minister of throwing money at a "pet project".
Speaking ahead of a visit to a primary school in London, Mr Johnson said: "Every child should have access to a good school place, no matter their background or where they live.
"Free schools help to ensure children are getting the best education possible - offering exceptional teaching, encouraging strong discipline and providing families with more choices.
"I want to see even more of these excellent schools open, particularly in areas most in need of more good and outstanding school places."
He added: "This Government is committed to investing in our children's futures. Not only are we improving education standards with new free schools, but we're also levelling up funding across the entire country and increasing funding per pupil in primary and secondary schools."
But the plans have come under fire from Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, who said: "Once again, this government is throwing taxpayers’ money at its pet project free schools instead of taking a long hard look at where investment is most needed after a decade in which schools across England have been starved of cash.
“The Government’s academy and free schools programme is in crisis. Almost 70 ‘orphan schools’ do not have a sponsor and yet the Government recklessly wants to expand the programme."
She added: “The most sensible and financially sound way to get new school places in the areas and phases of education that most need them is to allow local authorities to establish new maintained schools and to give them the legal powers to instruct academies and free schools to expand where they have the capacity to do so.
"Instead the Government’s reckless approach is to invest millions of pounds in new schools regardless of local need."
Shadow Education Secretary Angela Rayner meanwhile claimed that the long-running free schools programme had "failed to create the school places that our children need".
She added: "Too often new schools are not opening where they are needed and local communities are not getting new schools.
“The Tories have repeatedly cut the capital funding available for new school places and buildings, and last week’s Spending Review revealed that the Department for Education’s capital budget will fall yet again next year."
The move comes after Chancellor Sajid Javid unveiled a further £14bn fund for primary and secondary education over the next three years.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said: "Our free schools programme, introduced nearly a decade ago, is transforming education for children all over the country, whether they live and whatever their ability.
"Our reforms have backed the innovative and trailblazing school leaders who are running great schools up and down the country. I want to harness that expertise and use it in the areas where there is still more to do, including the alternative provision and special school sectors."