The National Union of Teachers (NUT) has accused the British Government of wasting almost £140 million ($175.3m) of public money on free schools which either never opened or were forced to partially or completely close.

The union said the data, which it compiled from government websites, showed 138.5m was spent on a total of 62 schools.

NUT secretary Kevin Courtney called the spending an "appalling waste" as it was revealed that an average £10m was spent on each failed University Technical College, a type of free school with a particular focus on vocational skills. One UTC in Tottenham, which was sponsored by Tottenham Hotspur Football Club and is due to close its doors in August, had received £15m, he added.

Courtney said: "That sums of this magnitude have been thrown away at a time when schools across the country are crying out for funding for staff, to provide a broad and balanced curriculum and to ensure essential resources and equipment are available, is criminal. Ministers should apologise to teachers and parents."

The NUT added that the funds spent by government on the failing schools could have been used to employ 3680 teachers for a year. Courtney said that the failed investment showed ministers had "completely the wrong priorities" for education and said it was driven by an ideology of creating a competitive market for schools, rather than what is best for parents and pupils.

The news comes as the government announced last week that it would open a further 111 new free schools, a move that was criticised by shadow education secretary Angela Rayner. Rayner said of those schools, just 12 would be in the most deprived areas of the country.

However, despite the closures and high costs, government has no intention of closing the scheme and defended it. A spokesperson for the Department of Education told iNews: "There are 1.8 million more children in good or outstanding schools than in 2010 and free schools are playing a vital role in creating those good school places.

"They are popular with parents, ensuring thousands more families have the choice of a good local school. The construction costs of a newly built free school are 29% lower than those built under the previous school building programme."

Rayner further criticised the "deeply inefficient" system on Sunday. The Labour MP was quoted by the BBC as saying: "Billions of pounds of taxpayers' money has been sunk into free schools, but there is still little evidence that the government is creating new places for children in the areas that they are most needed."

A House of Commons briefing paper released in December 2016, Free School Statistics, reported that 74,714 pupils had places in 379 free schools. Another 46 opened over 2016.

The paper also stated that 158 of these new schools had been inspected by Ofsted, but "the number of free schools inspected so far is still quite small and so provide little firm evidence on performance so far".

Since the first free schools were set up in 2010, 16 have closed, according to the paper.

Angela Rayner
Shadow education secretary Angela Rayner has been critical of free schoolsGetty