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‘Ministry to blame for fiasco at Bradford free school’
The blame for the One in a Million Free School fiasco lays squarely on the shoulders of the Government who had known exactly how many children would be attending it, according to Bradford Council’s education chief.
Poor pupil recruitment and viability concerns were cited by the Department for Education when it pulled the plug on funding for the Valley Parade school last week, leaving 30 youngsters in the lurch.
But Councillor Ralph Berry , the executive member responsible for children’s services, said he had known for a while about the number of youngsters set to attend the school which had capacity for 50 pupils so the government must also have known.
Coun Berry added: “What I understand is that the school was subject to additional requirements and tests partly related to cutting back the budget.
“Apparently they passed all those tests on Tuesday and then heard the funding agreement was cancelled. What I do know is that parents were told on Friday.
“My gut feeling is that the problem is with (Education Minister Michael) Gove’s budget and is too much money and they can’t justify it.
“Something has come to a juddering halt. If they (the Government) had concerns about viability or anything, that is not new.
“Yesterday was pretty tough meeting children and parents.
“My biggest criticism of this is the sort of money putting into free schools would have provided far more places if used in a different way.”
On Thursday he met with parents, who have collected 600 signatures for a petition to save the school, to try and help them secure a local authority place.
The One in a Million charity said it is “absolutely amazed” low student numbers have been blamed for the Government withdrawing its funding.
The charity said at the height of interest in the school in October 2011, 48 pupils were signed up – but some drifted away as the school was unable to make a guaranteed offer of a place due to the DfE delay in signing the funding agreement.
The charity’s chief executive Matthew Band said: “Also to dispel the myth around the ‘failure’ to attract enough students, this is simply just not true.
“Every free school that entered the pre-opening phase for September 2012 went through a rigorous interview and selection process with the DfE and had to show significant evidence of parental demand and the OIAM free school was no different and did so.
“We clearly demonstrated the demand in Bradford and we had 37 parents signed up back as far as June 2011 when we submitted our proposal. By October 2011 we had 48 (98 per cent) students by their parents signing a ‘certificate of intent’.
“At that point the DfE accepted our proposal.”