Scandal-hit Bradford free school is most expensive in country, new figures reveal

Scandal-hit Bradford free school is most expensive in country, new figures reveal

ALARM: Cllr Ralph Berry outside the Kings Science Academy. Below left, David Ward MP. Below, former principal Sajid Raza Hussain with Prime Minister David Cameron

ALARM: Cllr Ralph Berry, who said he is alarmed by the costs of setting up the controversial Kings Science Academy free school in Bradford

Kings Science Academy

Kings Science Academy

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Prime Minister David Cameron meets headteacher Sajid Hussain and children from Kings Science Academy, Bradford on a visit with Jackie Whiteley, Conservative Parliamentary Candidate, for the forthcoming Bradford West by-election. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. P

First published in News
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Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Photograph of the Author by , T&A Reporter

SCANDAL-hit Kings Science Academy in Bradford has emerged as being the most expensive free school in the country.

The school in Northside Road, Lidget Green, cost £10,451,327 to build and, because it does not own the site, has to pay an annual rent of £296,000 to landowners the Hartley group.

Bradford East Liberal Democrats MP David Ward, who sits on the Commons Education Select Committee, last night called the costs "outrageous" while Bradford Council's education chief Ralph Berry pointed out the rent swallowed cash the school cannot spend on its pupils' education.

The Hartley Group is owned by Alan Lewis, a Conservative Party vice-chairman, who was a trustee of the flagship school when it opened in September 2011.

The Department for Education had him listed as the chairman of governors when it opened, although the school has since stated that was a mistake and it had no chairman of governors for a year.

The only free school in the country to pay more rent for its site is the London Academy of Excellence, which is based near the Olympic stadium in Stratford, and has a rent bill of almost £397,000 a year.

Free schools, brought in by the coalition Government, are taxpayer-funded but not under control of the local authority.

The figures, released by the Education Funding Agency, show the costs of the 39 schools set up so far as part of the controversial programme which in itself drew strong criticism in a report by the Centre for Learning and Life Chances published yesterday.

Despite criticism of the high annual rent for Kings Science Academy site, the DfE insisted last night the near £300,000 cost is the market rate, and that it was the best site available.

Councillor Ralph Berry, executive for children's services on the Council, described the school's costs as "dramatic".

"This is why MPs have been making such an issue of this," he said.

"When Kings was first proposed we were told it was going to be a cheap, cost-effective conversion of an industrial site.

"What that rent means is that £300,000 a year isn't being spent on the education of children in the school. It would be far better for the school if it had full ownership rather than paying this rent every year. It shows that the Free School programme has not been well cost managed."

Mr Ward said: "It is just outrageous.

"It is not believable that this was a value for money deal and it is completely scandalous that the Department for Education allowed this to happen. The DfE was so determined to get the school up and running as part of its Free School programme that it just let it go ahead.

"We have asked a barrage of questions about this and there is no way we will let this rest. All the questions could be ended if we were shown details of if any alternative sites were investigated."

A DfE spokesman said: “We always seek to secure sites at no or minimal cost. We are paying rent on the Kings Science Academy site because that was the best available in terms of its cost, suitability, size and location.

“Independent commercial advice was obtained on the cost of the lease for the Kings Science Academy site. This confirmed the cost was in line with the market value. It was also a lower rate of rent than for previous tenants. Treasury approval was also sought and obtained on the proposed site.”

The DfE confirmed it was also working with the school's governors to find a partner to help run the school.

"The Department is committed to working closely with the governors of Kings Science Academy to ensure its long term success," the spokesman said.

"The school has confirmed it would like to join a Multi Academy Trust, and has asked us to identify a suitable partner. We are now working with the school to secure the right sponsor to build on the improvements already under way at the school.”

The Hartley Group had not responded last night to a request by the Telegraph & Argus for a comment about the cost of the lease of the school's site.

Kings Science Academy has also attracted controversy after a DfE report last year revealed that tens of thousands of pounds of start up money had not been used for its intended purpose.

Then principal Sajid Raza Hussain was arrested on suspicion of fraud in January and is now on police bail as a criminal probe continues.

He was sacked by the school's governors earlier this week as they revealed the school had asked the DfE to help it find an academy partner.

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