Jerry Roodhouse, a Lib Dem councillor in Rugby, Warwickshire, has condemned plans to use playing fields to rehouse the existing Rokeby Primary School and as a site for the proposed 1,260 place Rugby Free Secondary School (RFSS).
“It sounds like utter madness to me – it doesn’t seem to have been planned at all. We’ve already got a competing secondary school looking to expand in the same area.’
The existing secondary school, Ashlawn School, hopes to expand by opening a second site in the same vicinity. The bi-lateral school is discussing the possibility of opening a ‘four year seven classes of 30 pupils’ annexe from September 2017 with the Department for Education (DfE).
If RFSS were given permission to build its permanent home on the playing fields then it would be in direct competition with an existing and possibly expanding secondary school, said Coun Roodhouse. There would be two secondary schools in close proximity on Rugby’s south side while the north side would continue to have only one. This, he said, ‘beggars belief’.
Coun Bill Lewis, another Rugby councillor, said the news to use the playing fields to relocate Rokeby Primary School had been a surprise to himself and the school, according to the Rugby Observer.
Plans to build 860 homes close to the playing fields were rejected by the Council two weeks ago due to traffic concerns. Now it appears there is a proposal to house two new schools (and possibly an expanded one in a large annexe) in the same area.
Under the proposed plans the existing Rokeby Primary School would house a special free school proposed by the MacIntyre Academies Trust while a neighbouring property currently housing 13 ‘live-in property guardians’ would provide temporary accommodation for RFSS.
The group behind RFSS is the Knowledge School Trust (KST) which opened a free primary school in Rugby last September. One trustee of KST, Thomas Legge, is also a trustee of Bellevue Place Education Trust which has free schools in London. One of these, Whitehall Park, caused much controversy before it opened. Bellevue Place’s accounts (y/e 31/8/14) says:
‘The Trust also works with Waddington Matthews who, in Tom Legge, has one of the most experienced and influential free school proponents in the country.'
Waddington Matthews, a firm in which Legge has a majority interest, received £34,500 in 2014/15 (£1,500 outstanding) from Knowledge School Trust for ‘project management services’ for KST’s primary free school. The purchase was made at ‘arm’s length’ and at cost, KST’s accounts reveal.
KST’s accounts also show the Trust paid £25,224 to Castle Gate Legal and Commercial Ltd, a company connected to KST’s trustee David Johnson, for ‘project management services (£2,049 outstanding) in 2014/15.
Both transactions complied with the requirements of the Academies Financial Handbook but such dealings again raise concerns about related party transactions. Margaret Hodge, ex-chair of the Public Accounts Committee has described such deals as ‘wrong’.
Coun Colin Hayfield, Warwickshire County Council's (WCC) education spokesperson, said the plans represented 'very good news'. He said they would address the need for school places - expanding Rokeby Primary School would allow the council to do this 'without any additional cost to the county council'. WCC planned to consult and 'get the views of local families'.
Whether the consultation will cover those families who might like a new secondary on Rugby's north side is unclear.