Official figures say only 62 groups have made applications to open their own schools

Education secretary Michael Gove has been accused of exaggerating the interest in his free schools policy after it emerged that there have only been 62 applications from groups wanting to open their own schools.

The figure was revealed by the Department of Education in response to a freedom of information request, and drew criticism over the weekend from shadow schools secretary Ed Balls.

It compares with a recent comment by Gove that 700 groups or individuals had expressed an interest in setting up a school to the New Schools Network (NSN), a charity helping to set up the scheme.

However, the Department for Education insists that the 700 figure is still an accurate reflection of groups who are “genuinely interested” in taking a project forward, and are in discussions with NSN.

The row comes after revelations last week that just 153 schools had applied to become new academies, and follows the furore surrounding the cancellation of the £55bn Building Schools for the Future initiative.