Some 50 new free schools are expected to be announced by the prime minister on Monday in what will be the last round of the independent state schools approved before the general election, TES understands.
David Cameron is expected to announce the creation of 48 new institutions, bringing the total number of free schools either open or in the pipeline to 410.
According to sources, it will take the number of approved free schools to more than double the 203 academies established by the previous Labour government.
The government announcement will coincide with a major report due to be published by Policy Exchange on the impact of free schools on their neighbours.
Since their introduction in 2011, free schools have been the source of major controversy, with many headteachers and classroom leaders claiming they take much-needed resources away from existing state-maintained schools.
Overall, three free schools have been ordered to close owing to concerns around the quality of education being provided.
The Durham Free School will shut its doors at the end of the month after its funding agreement was terminated earlier this year by education secretary Nicky Morgan.
This follows the closure of the Discovery New School in West Sussex last year because of poor standards, and Al Madinah, the country’s first Muslim free school, was forced to shut its secondary school.
The latest wave of free schools could be the last should Labour come to power after the election in May, with shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt describing them as a “dangerous ideological experiment”.
However, the New Schools Network, a charity that helps applicants to open free schools, said 70 per cent of the schools were judged by Ofsted to be either good or outstanding.
Writing for TES earlier this year, the network’s director Natalie Evans defended the policy, saying that the schools were addressing an acute shortage of school places.
“Last September, 90 per cent of newly opening primary free schools were in areas where there is a projected shortfall of places, and in London every single new primary is opening in an area which is either already experiencing problems or faces a shortage imminently,” she wrote.
Free schools not reaching the poorest, study finds – 7 August 2014
‘Why I believe in free schools and why I plan to open more’ – 25 November 2013