SCHOOLS in Oxfordshire could be left with peeling paintwork and broken heating at the expense of the Government's 'politically-driven' free schools programme, it has been warned.

Government spending watchdog the National Audit Office (NAO) said £7.1bn was needed to bring all schools in the country up to a good standard.

But by 2022 the Government will spend an estimated £2.5bn on buying land needed for free schools – which can be set up by community groups, charities and businesses independently from local authorities.

Windmill Primary School, Headington, principal Lynn Knapp said local authority-run schools and academies could fall into disrepair.

She said: "We have got less money to spend on repairs and maintenance but it is an old building from 1935 that is starting to deteriorate.

"Trying to keep on top of that is hard.

"It could end up like Rose Hill Primary School if it is not well maintained.

"Children need an environment that is safe and conducive to learning.

"If you have paint peeling off the walls and you have damp it leads to problems.

"The free school agenda infuriates me."

Children at Rose Hill were forced to wear hats and gloves in class in late 2015 after the boiler broke and temperatures dropped to 10C.

In Oxfordshire in the current financial year schools have been allocated £346m from the Government's main schools grant – which must also be used for paying staff and buying equipment.

In comparison the new Swan School free school planned to open in 2019 will cost an estimated £25m while another free school trust has plans to expand into Headington.

On Tuesday the county council voted to contribute £2m towards the construction of the new The Swan School free school, planned to open in 2019.

The £25m the council expects the Government to spend on The Swan School is more than the average free school because the Department for Education will have to find new accommodation for Meadowbrook College and Oxfordshire Hospital School.

Both are based at the Harlow Centre site earmarked for school.

It will be the second school in Andrew Smith's Oxford East constituency, following Tyndale Community School in William Morris Close, Temple Cowley.

The Labour MP said: "This National Audit Office report is powerful independent confirmation of what many of us have argued all along – that the money the government is pumping into its politically-driven free schools programme is coming at the expense of the funding and upkeep of mainstream schools.

"Local education authorities, including our own, are also being put in the impossible position of having responsibility for ensuring there are enough school places, but without the power any longer to ensure places are made available where they are needed."

Free schools, which do not have to follow the national curriculum, can change the length of school terms and the school day.

They were created in 2010 by the coalition Government and hundreds are now open across England, including Tyndale Community School and Heyford Park Free School near Bicester.

County council cabinet member for education Steve Harrod said: "While it’s difficult to comment on the specific findings of the NAO report, it is obviously the case that large sums of money are being allocated nationally for free schools, while funds for the maintenance and repair of existing school buildings in Oxfordshire and the rest of the country remain limited."

A Department for Education spokesman said: "The Government is making a huge investment in the school estate of £23bn up to 2021, to create a further 600,000 new school places, deliver 500 new free schools, and rebuild and refurbish buildings at more than 500 schools."