Department for Education forms £2bn property “start-up” to fund free school sites

DfE-owned LocatED will be “Britain’s biggest property start-up”, while the Education Funding Agency and the Skills Funding Agency will be merged

By Richard Johnstone

29 Mar 2017

The Department for Education has created a state-owned company to buy up property that can be used to expand the government’s free schools initiative.

The company, called LocatED, will have a £2bn budget to act on behalf of the government to secure the sites needed to meet the government’s target of opening 500 free schools by 2020.

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Education secretary Justine Greening also announced that two departmental agencies – the Education Funding Agency and the Skills Funding Agency – would be merged to drive expansion plans for the number of academies and free schools.

Currently, the EFA is tasked with finding sites once plans for free schools have been approved by the department, and around 300 have opened under the policy so far. The new firm is intended to use the scale of the free school initiative to get better prices for land and construction of new buildings.

Schools systems minister Lord Nash said LocatED, dubbed “Britain’s biggest property start-up” by the DfE, was needed to ensure that buildings could be found to match the demand for free schools.

“With 29% of free schools inspected rated ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted, LocatED will play a vital role in helping us create thousands more good and outstanding school places for future generations of children,” he said.

LocatED’s chief executive Lara Newman insisted the firm knew the scale of the challenge to provide the sites in the current property landscape.

“LocatED has the expertise and will operate at pace to negotiate with multiple partners across the private and public sector. We work directly with landowners, agents and developers to secure sites for new free schools, whilst ensuring the best value for the taxpayer.”

Its first target will be to find sites for the 110 free schools announced by chancellor Philip Hammond in the Budget earlier this month.

Greening said the merger of the EFA and the SFA into the Education and Skills Funding Agency would take place next month.

The new body will continue to carry out the roles of both existing quangos. The EFA provides education funding for pupils aged 5 to 16 at academies and free schools, while the SFA funds further education.

According to Greening, creating a single agency would “provide a more joined-up approach to funding and regulation of schools, colleges and other providers, with improved accountability and better service”.

She said the department would be working closely with staff, trade unions and other stakeholders ahead of the switch.

Peter Lauener, who serves as chief executive of both bodies, has announced he will retire once the merger is complete. Recruitment of a successor is underway, she confirmed.

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