Government pulls plug on free school days before opening

Janet Downs's picture
Bradford based One-in-a-Million free school will not open as planned this month. The Government has cited low enrolment figures as the reason.

The proposed 11-18 secondary school, sited in Bradford City football ground, only attracted 30 pupils instead of the 50 needed for its initial intake. The school planned to cater for just 350 pupils when all year groups were filled.

The school, whose proposal was backed by profit-making education provider Edison Learning, claimed that it had 50 pupils committed to the school in October 2011 and blames DfE delays for putting off some of these parents. What’s not clear is whether these 50 were truly committed or merely “expressions of interest”. As we’ve seen with Beccles Free School, which will open despite a low intake, expressions of interest don’t always turn into definite enrolments.

School offer day for secondary schools was the 1st March so it would have been known then whether there were sufficient pupils wanting to attend One-in-a-Million unless, of course, several parents have withdrawn their children since then. In either case, it should have been know before now that the school was not viable. Yet building went ahead anyway and staff were employed. And as late as 25 August the school was still tweeting to attract pupils with the offer of an I-pad.

Bradford City Council says it will find places for the 30 affected pupils. But parents who committed to the school have been devastated by this last-minute change of plan. It was irresponsible of the DfE to have signalled that the school would open and then pull the plug within days of opening. That decision should have been made weeks ago as in the case of Newham Free Academy.

This raises questions about One-in-a-Million free school in particular and the free schools programme generally. In the case of One-in-a-Million:

1 Were expressions of interest used as evidence of demand?

2 What was the result of the public consultation?

3 How much money has already been spent on this project?

And for free schools in general:

1 At what point should the DfE halt a free school proposal if it hasn’t attracted sufficient firm applications? Six months before? Three months?

2 Should public consultations take place before the DfE gives the go-ahead? This would accurately gauge demand and avoid situations such as Newham and One-in-a-Million.

3 Should applications to open free schools only be considered in areas where there is an expected shortage of school places? In Beccles, the Beccles Free School was given the go-ahead despite there already being a surplus of secondary places. And Bradford is not one of the areas highlighted by the New Schools Network, enthusiastic promoter of free schools, as having a projected shortfall at secondary level.

4 Should the £600 million allocated to the free schools programme be re-allocated to pay for essential maintenance and refurbishment of existing schools?

The Government should answer these questions before committing taxpayers’ money to the free schools programme.

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Libby Lawson's picture
Thu, 30/08/2012 - 07:05

What a disaster! This is a terrible outcome for those thirty children, their families and their would have been teachers.
Do you suppose any of those questions will likely be answered?
Personally, in response to questions 4 and 5, I think free schools should only get the go ahead where there is an expected shortage of school places and otherwise commit the money and energy on existing schools. Work within the existing system and make it better.

IOD's picture
Sat, 01/09/2012 - 10:14

I wonder if Gove will apologise when he's giving his address at Toby Young's pep rally today...

Janet Downs's picture
Sat, 01/09/2012 - 10:40

Thanks, IOD. I notice that another "keynote" speaker is Lord Adonis. Perhaps he'll apologise for deceiving the electorate about academies:

As long ago as 2000, the late Ted Wragg, Professor of Education at Exeter University and TES columnist, wrote an article entitled "Take Tony Zoffis' bullets away". "Tony Zoffis", aka Tony's Office, was widely known to be modelled on Adonis. Wragg was complaining about Zoffis' approach to schools - the language of "zero tolerance", "tough this and tough that". Wragg asked:

"Why does Tony Zoffis spin against teachers in this way? It might win a few votes, but it is cheapskate, no way to enthuse teachers, a bit like saying, 'Join our crusade; you clueless bastards.'"

Tony Zoffis and Gove speak the same language. They should both apologise.

Janet Downs's picture
Sat, 01/09/2012 - 10:47

And Adonis is still at it. In the Standard he writes about how London schools have become the nation's best. According to him it's all to do with sponsored academies, Teach First and free schools. He gives the London Challenge a minor role in the last paragraph even though recent research commissioned by the DfE but little publicised found that the City Challenge programme was more effective than sponsoring academies.

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