A free school, located in the grounds of Bradford City Football Club, has been denied public funding. The local authority is scrambling to find places for the pupils in time for next week's new school year.
According to Construction News, the One in a Million Free School was only informed of the Department for Education's (DfE) decision to deny funding on Friday. The DfE said the school had failed to meet funding conditions, citing low pupil numbers specifically.
Wayne Jacobs, co-founder of the One in a Million charity said:
We are completely baffled and stunned at this decision by the DfE and absolutely devastated for the parents, children and staff of the One in a Million Free School.
The charity's Chief Executive, Matthew Band, according to Channel 4 News, blamed the bureaucratic delays for the school's problems. He claimed that the school had had its full complement of pupils signed up as early as October 2011. However, the project had been put at risk due to the DfE's failure to sign off the funding agreement at that time, with the lack of certainty causing some parents to seek alternative places for their children.
In a statement on its website the charity said:
The school team have worked tirelessly over the last 10 months to ensure the school was ready to open this September. With nearly two thirds of student places still filled, staff recruited and appointed, and building contractors on site up until only a week ago, the project team also had approval for its 50-100% Financial Plans in June and were assured by the DfE the Funding Agreement required to open the school was all on track for sign off by the Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove MP.
The team had met all conditions put forward by the Department, had passed its Readiness for Opening Meeting and achieved a good OFSTED pre-inspection but on Friday 24 August the DfE Free Schools group at a regional Yorkshire & Humber and national UK level took a decision not to recommend to the Secretary of State that he sign off the agreement and hence the school cannot be legally opened on 3 September as planned.
The final sentence of the statement questions the DfE's rationale for denying the school public funding. It states:
No doubt in the fullness of time we will find out the real reason for what has just happened and will consider our position but we are determined to take this forward if at all possible and will pursue whatever avenues are open to us to make the One in a Million Free School a successful reality.
Stephen Twigg, the Shadow Education Secretary, was quick to suggest a possible reason. According to the Daily Telegraph, he said:
Michael Gove looks increasingly incompetent. Pulling the plug on a school just a few days before it was due to open will leave parents angry and confused as they scramble to find a school place. This problem stems from an Education Secretary who prefers promoting pet projects without a clear assessment of local need on the ground.
Mr Twigg is obviously correct about the feelings of the concerned parents, who have set up an online petition, protesting the government's decision.
A spokesperson for the DfE said:
Setting up a Free School is a difficult task and we thank One in a Million for all their hard work.
The spokesperson expressed the hope that the school will apply for funding to open for 2013.