With only one week until school term time begins the Department for Education (DfE) has decided that the One in a Million Free School will not open as planned on September 3 2012.
The news comes as a shock with significant impact and implications for the School Project. Wayne Jacobs, Co-Founder of One in a Million 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 ”
Matthew Band, Chief Executive of One in a Million said: “Put simply, in Oct 2011 when we secured the OIAM Free School, we were at 100% capacity in terms of our student numbers, had our split site facilities identified and ready to purchase and yet within 10 months, due to the DfE’s processes & inability to sign off Funding Agreement and secure our Facilities, they have put the Project at risk.”
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.
Mr. Band said: “Obviously we are amazed at this decision particularly at such a late stage And although ‘low’ student numbers have been cited and we have had to watch some parents walk away due to the insecurity surrounding Funding Agreement and Facility acquisition, as a small school we still have nearly two thirds of our places filled with 30 students committed to start on the 3 September 2012.”
“It just doesn’t make sense and we don’t know of any other Free School that has been put in this position with a week to opening and we will watch with great interest to see which Schools do open in September, their student numbers and capacity, and whether their facilities are permanent or temporary?”
“We know of at least two examples of Free Schools where one opened last year with 34 students and have just been awarded a second school to open in September 2013 and also one which had 37 places allocated and had Funding Agreement sign off in May this year by the Secretary of State, with the expected increase in student recruitment that this security would bring.”
“The Secretary of State has asked us to consider a deferred opening in September 2013 which we will seriously think through whilst seeking concrete guarantees that if we do, Funding Agreement will rapidly proceed to sign off and the Facilities including sports pitches are secured and building works completed with no further reduction in our Capital or Revenue funding so that the school is fit for purpose and will provide the educational Vision & Plan as originally proposed by the OIAM Charity.”
He added: “Although we do not agree with the decision made by the DfE, and no matter how disappointing it is, we will now work closely this week with the Local Authority Admissions team in Bradford to ensure that all our children are placed in an appropriate LA school and we will feedback all our parents’ views and comments alongside our own to the DfE Free Schools group and Senior Ministers.”
“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.”