Welcome To Zelo Street!

This is a blog of liberal stance and independent mind

Friday 24 July 2015

Free School Not Cleared For Take-Off

Although the likes of the loathsome Toby Young rightly attract their share of brickbats over a slavish support for the Free Schools programme initiated by his hero Michael “Oiky” Gove, at least the information about how much the West London Free School is costing the public purse - that means all of us - has been willingly ponied up. Sadly, the same thing cannot be said of all Free Schools - well, not yet, anyway.
Zelo Street regulars may recall the curious case of the Parkfield Free School in the south coast town of Bournemouth, which began its life at Butcher’s Coppice, a scout camp, before moving to an office block in the town centre called Dorset House. But then a problem entered: this accommodation would not be available after 2015, so a new home had to be found. The National Air Traffic Control Service (NATS) provided the solution.

Their training centre was now vacant. However, and here we encounter a significantly sized however, the building was not in town, but six miles away - and in a different local authority area - at Bournemouth Airport. It was, in fact, adjacent to the airport apron, giving the potential for pupils to be subjected to the bracing aroma of aviation fuel, and the related prospect of significant noise pollution.

That was bad enough, but then it was found that since NATS moved out, the building had become home to a large number of bats. So the school had to negotiate to remain at Dorset House for another year while that was sorted. By this time, the thought entered that Parkfield Free School might be racking up a fair old taxpayer bill, what with all the different premises, start-up costs, and of course the bat removal to pay for.

So the Bournemouth Echo put in an FoI request, only to have most of it refused: “the DfE would only give us limited information about the school's pre-opening and post-opening expenditure that revealed the school received £145,807.46 before opening and £467,500 afterwards … However the DfE does publish lists of payments over £25,000 and these appear to show that between July and December 2013, a total of £2.14million was paid to Parkfield Education Limited, the trust that set up the school”. There’s more.

Land registry records also show that Parkfield paid £3million for the College of Air Traffic Control at Hurn”. Hurn is where Bournemouth Airport is sited. So there has been around £6 million shelled out, but the DfE is stalling: “The Department is currently in commercial negotiations to finalise the capital costs and releasing the information you requested may have a negative impact on the Department's negotiating position”.

I detect a whiff of bullshit here. The new premises has been paid for, and all that should now be outstanding is clearing the bats, fitting it out, and paying for temporary accommodation in the interim. Why is the Government dragging its feet? Is there another significant capital sum coming at us down the runway?

Either way, this is another example of Free Schools equalling an open-ended taxpayer commitment. Plus this one, it seems, got a “requires improvement” from Ofsted. The people of Bournemouth could have done better with their local authority.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The saga of Parkfield seems to get worse every time! I note that when quizzed on the issue of where the money for an extra year of the lease at Dorset House would come from, Timpson claimed it was "always intended" for Parkfield to operate out of temporary accommodation from September 2015 (and the money set aside for this would be used). This came as news to parents, who had been categorically told that the Hurn site would be ready for September 2015 - indeed, no news story about the move to Hurn mentions temporary accommodation at all.

In addition, I've heard some tales of how bad the school is for the children. Thanks to job sharing and alternating Montessori and curriculum, some Year 1 kids have three teachers, who switch on a more-than-weekly basis. I've also been made aware that on a Reception class trip to the beach, teachers forgot to bring sun hats, resulting in some children having to be taken to hospital with sunstroke.

This one isn't going to get better.