Free schools – the UK's charter school equivalents – are proving very popular, The Daily Telegraph reports. According to data released by the Department of Education, nine out of ten schools are forced to keep waiting lists as they regularly receive more applicants than they can accommodate.
Three students, on average, are competing for each open free school slot with the most popular school – West London Free School in Hammersmith — turning away nearly 1,200 applicants while admitting only 120 every year.
Dixons Trinity Academy in Bradford is next on the list where 6 students apply for every single seat in the school.
According to education officials, such numbers prove that free schools are being embraced both by parents and students who are hungry for more choice when it comes to educating their kids. However, it appears that the numbers are skewed by a few very popular schools, while in reality more than 10 percent don't even draw enough applicants to fill their classrooms every year.
But the data will be seized upon by opponents of the system after it emerged that around 13 per cent of the schools officially had fewer applications than places – leaving them standing partially empty in September.
It comes despite claims that schools – which are funded by the taxpayer but run by parents, teachers, charities and faith groups completely independent of local council control – are being opened in areas with a high demand for good school places.
Despite those claims, research by the National Union of Teachers shows that nearly 20% of schools are being opened in areas that already have a surplus of classroom space in existing schools – and opening up free schools in such areas is a waste of taxpayer dollars, they claim.
Natalie Evans, who heads up the Free Schools Network, a group charged with promoting free schools, says that by all data it's clear that parents love free schools — either because they fill the gap in areas where not enough traditional school slots are on offer or because families prefer them as an option over traditional state schools.
But Lord Nash, the Schools Minister, insisted that most schools were proving hugely popular.
"It goes to show that if you give local communities the freedom to establish high-quality and innovative schools that raise standards, parents will want a place for their child," he said.
In total, 63 free schools are scheduled to open their doors this fall with 55 already reporting that they're handling more applications than they can fill.