Education Minister Elizabeth Truss said:
I am pleased the NAO has recognised the progress we have made in opening 174 schools and with much lower construction costs than previous programmes. Free schools are one of this government’s success stories - an innovative response to what local communities want for their children.
Free schools are popular with parents and are delivering strong discipline and teaching excellence across the country. Three-quarters of the free schools inspected have been rated good or outstanding. The vast majority are opening in areas facing a shortage of school places, or in deprived communities.
We want to open many more high-quality free schools, so every child has the chance to go to an excellent local school.
Free schools are brand new state-funded schools and have greater freedoms than their local authority-run counterparts. They are run by teachers - not local councils or Westminster politicians - and have freedom over the length of the school day and term, the curriculum and how they spend their money.
There are 174 open free schools and another 116 are approved to open in 2014 and beyond. That will bring the total to 290. All are expected to maintain the highest possible standards.
8 in 10 open mainstream free schools are either in areas with a shortage of places or in areas of deprivation.
In total, all currently approved free schools would deliver more than 140,000 new school places when full.
Free schools have proven popular with parents. Those open at the start of the 2012 school year self-reported receiving an average of 3 applicants per place for September 2013.