Council faces £4.1m annual bill if Burnley PFI school stays empty

Janet Downs's picture

MP blames free school for falling roll at doomed Hameldon College

A local council will continue paying money under a private finance initiative (PFI) contract for Hameldon Community College, Burnley, after it closes in 2019, Private Eye reports*.  The annual bill will be £4.1m if the school remains empty.   

Local MP Julie Cooper told the Eye Hameldon would have had sustainable numbers if a free school had not opened nearby in 2014.

School struggled despite long-serving ‘committed’ head

Hameldon Community College opened in 2006 when two schools amalgamated.  It operated on the two sites until a PFI building costing £22m with room for 750 pupils opened in 2010.

The school has never been good despite the efforts of long-serving head Gill Broom described by inspectors as ‘principled’, determined’ and ‘committed’.

DfE refused academy sponsorship plan citing falling numbers

In July 2014, a monitoring inspection found governors hoped to become a sponsored academy with Pennine Federation.  The Department for Education (DfE) rejected the plan citing declining numbers at Hameldon.

Surplus places locally hadn’t stopped free school opening

Surplus places locally hadn’t prevented the DfE from allowing Burnley High School, a secondary free school, to open in 2014.  Its impact assessment, not published until after it opened, said Hameldon and nearby Shuttleworth College were at ‘high’ risk from Burnley High. 

Council decided to close Hameldon

A 2015 inspection upgraded Hameldon to requires improvement but downgraded it in October 2017.   Inspectors blamed ‘significant instability in leadership’.  Ms Broom had retired in July 2016 and a second interim head was in place when Ofsted called. 

Hameldon’s roll had fallen to 295 by October 2017.  Consultations began to shut the school.

Free school’s £15.5m new building on Hameldon’s old site

Meanwhile, in December 2015, just over a year after Burnley High opened in temporary buildings, it was announced its permanent home would be on one of the sites vacated by Hameldon when it moved to its PFI premises.   The new building cost £15.5m, the technical adviser said.    

It’s unclear whether this figure includes land or the grant given by the Education Funding Agency** to make the site safe after a slab covering a mine shaft was found to be disintegrating.       The DfE hasn’t revealed the cost despite the building being completed.   Neither does it include costs for the temporary buildings.

Trust running free school gets Financial Notice to Improve

According to the technical adviser, the free school was set up to meet ‘a growing demand for quality High School places locally’.  Burnley High was judged good in 2017 which would appear to justify the project.  But Chapel Street Community Schools Trust which runs Burnley High was sent a Financial Notice to Improve in February 2016.   It has not yet been lifted.    

Good or not, the free school was assessed as posing a high risk to the financial viability of two nearby schools.  Hameldon is now closing; Shuttleworth College, another PFI school, is to become an academy with Education Partnership Trust on 31 December.   318 of its 1050 places are unfilled.


*Issue 1484, 30 November to 13 December 2018.

**Now the Education and Skills Funding Agency

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Jane Eades's picture
Thu, 29/11/2018 - 16:47

So much in this story demonstrates what is wrong with current and recent education policy and the faith that has been put into private organisations, rather than public services.  It is so galling to read about this huge waste of money at a time when teachers haven't got the resources they need to deliver a well balanced curriculum.

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