By David Harrison
Michael Gove has rejected plans for a new free school in north London because they failed to reach “the high bar” set by the government.
The Education Secretary’s decision has angered campaigners who have fought for years for a new secondary school in Holborn.
They were convinced that the project would be approved because it was sponsored by the prestigious Institute of Education, part of the University of London, and Camden council had brokered a deal to turn workshops and studios at the site into a new school.
The campaigners, including many parents, have written to Gove saying they are “dumbfounded” by the decision and felt like a door had been “slammed” in their faces.
They write: "Your sudden and apparently final decision goes against everything our community has been encouraged to believe over the past three years.
“Your sudden dismissal of so many years of voluntary work by all involved deserves…a clear and detailed explanation. Anything less amounts to a monumental kick in the teeth for the very parents your free-schools policy claims to empower."
Sarah Hayward, the council’s Labour leader, said that the decision was a shock after a lot of hard work and a lot of indications that it would be approved. She believed it was politically motivated.
“Here is a sponsor that is a leading education specialist… and it can't get approval. Compare that to some of the other rag-tag organisations that have been given approval and where – some seem to have set up in old scout huts and still get a 'yes' – and you have to think there is an ulterior motive,” she told the Camden New Journal.
Councillor Angela Mason, Camden's schools chief, said: "The council remains committed to working with the campaign to provide a new school for children in the area."
A DfE spokeswoman said that the project has been “unable to reach the high bar we have set and we have withdrawn our approval for it to proceed any further. All free schools must meet strict criteria.”
She said the DfE had “worked closely with the Institute of Education on the Holborn schools” to ensure it could “deliver a high quality alternative to existing provision in the area and represented value for money”.