Why are we paying a fortune for ‘free’ schools we can’t use?

If anyone, in future, refers to those of us on the political left as “loonies”, all we’ll have to do is point them at Michael Gove.

This man defies belief. At a time when his confederates in the Coalition government are doing their best to convince us that they’re serious about cutting spending, so the UK can pay down its annual deficit and national debt, he’s throwing money around like it’s confetti.

Gove’s Free Schools project will enter a new phase next week when 39* such institutions open their doors for the first time – to an average of 102 pupils each. According to Denis MacShane, MP for Rotherham, Free Schools cost the taxpayer more than £337 million last year, when just 24 schools opened. That’s £14 million each or £137,254 per pupil.

Compare that with the average spent per pupil in England and Wales – £5,897.50. One could say that each pupil at a Free School is costing the taxpayer more than 23 times as much as at normal state schools.

Even taking account of the fact that some of the extra costs are one-offs associated with launching the schools, and that they will take on more pupils as time goes on, it still makes a mockery of the title ‘Free’ schools.

If all 39 schools fulfil their expected capacity, they will average 322 pupils per school at a cost of £43,478 per pupil – still a huge mark-up from state schools. This is at a time when comprehensives, some with more than 2,000 pupils, are having to find cuts in their budgets.

In addition, it seems Mr Gove has handed the property deeds of nearly 2,000 publicly-owned secondary schools over to the private sector for free.

So, with money flowing out of Gove’s education department like water from a punctured inflatable paddling pool – at a time of supposed fiscal austerity, let’s not forget – it’s time to ask ourselves, who voted for this? Who said it was a good idea to let Michael Gove run the UK’s education system?

Oh yes. That’s right.

It was Nick Clegg.

*Make that 38. It was 40 yesterday. An increasing number of these schools are delaying their opening until 2013, meaning an increased amount of expenditure from the education budget will have nothing to show for it at all.