A CONTROVERSIAL free school’s first term has cost the taxpayer nearly £900,000 – or more than £25,000 per pupil, new figures reveal.

In a letter to Durham City MP Roberta Blackman-Woods, Tory Schools Minister Lord Nash says Durham Free School (DFS) has received funding of £894,787, prompting the Labour MP to brand the school a waste of public money.

With just 34 pupils, the school is costing more than £25,000 per child – around five times the national average.

Dr Blackman-Woods said: “It is clear that free school policy is not leading to good value for money for the taxpayer.

“The £900,000 could have been much better spent supporting existing schools in the area that are very much in need of additional resources.”

The MP said the school should be closed next summer.

DFS, in Gilesgate, Durham, hopes to grow to a 630-place school and sixth form and move to a new site south-east of the city.

However, it has been dogged by claims it is costly, with nine teachers including its head and six part-timers, and unnecessary, when Durham has a number of good secondary schools with spare places.

Parents were also angered that it opened in the former Durham Gilesgate Sports College just months after that school closed amid falling rolls and budget cuts.

DFS’ funding included £313,114 in a general annual grant, £300,000 in pre-opening grant, £140,000 in post-opening grants and £127,500 in capital costs.

The average cost of secondary education nationally is between £5,000 and £7,000 per pupil, Dr Blackman-Woods said.

Lord Nash said the Department for Education had released “minimal” capital funding, including for refurbishing and information and computer technology.

Education Secretary Michael Gove, who has made free schools his flagship policy, defended DFS as recently as Wednesday, when he said it had the potential to be a very, very good school.

Headteacher Peter Cantley said DFS had enjoyed a tremendous first term and it had been a joy to work with the children and see the progress they had made.

The school term will finish today (Friday, December 20) with a carol service at St Giles’ Church in Gilesgate.