The decision to delay the opening of a new free school must be made before national offer day in April, to stop parents being left without places for their children when the academic year starts, council leaders have said.
The Local Government Association has called for ministers to make such decisions at the “earliest opportunity”, after recent incidents where parents were told that their chosen school would not be opening.
In 2012, parents were informed at the eleventh hour that the One in a Million Free School in Bradford would not be opening in September, leaving their children without school places.
David Simmonds, deputy chairman of the LGA, said that a free school not opening in time had “huge implications” for families.
“It is absolutely crucial that parents know what is happening at the earliest opportunity,” Cllr Simmonds said. “In order to minimise disruption, councils are calling on government to ensure any postponement is made before national offer day, so we don’t have a repeat of the situations that councils have witnessed in local areas over the past couple of years.”
Councils, he added, were often left to pick up the pieces after a free school opening date was put back.
“For many families, they will have already have paid for new school uniforms and will have organised their transport plans to ensure their child is able to travel to and from school safely. When last-minute delays are announced by government, it is the council that picks up the pieces to reassure mums and dads that their child will have a place at a school before September.”
Nanaksar Primary School in the London Borough of Hillingdon recently announced that it would not be opening until September 2016, while the Gateway Free School in Brent abandoned plans to open owing to problems securing a school site.
The Department for Education said: “The vast majority of free schools have opened on schedule. In a small proportion of cases, we agree with the school’s proposers that the school should open later than they had originally planned. In each case we make sure parents are notified at the earliest opportunity.”