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'Military' free school approval withdrawn after it fails to pass muster


Ministers have withdrawn their approval for a free school in Oldham run by ex-servicemen as it failed to meet the "high bar" set by the Department for Education.

The Phoenix Free School was expected to open in September, but the Department for Education (DfE) pulled the application, saying that it had failed to meet "strict criteria" for free schools.

The school was due to be staffed by armed forces veterans with a head of studies that had led science departments at three private schools and previously served as a Tornado pilot.

Director of the Phoenix Free School, Tom Burkard, had previously said that the school was oversubscribed by 85 per cent.

But a statement on the school's website said that support had been pulled.

"We regret to confirm that the Department for Education has withdrawn funding for Phoenix Free School of Oldham and it will not open this September," the statement said.

"We deeply appreciate the support we have received from everyone who has worked hard to make this project a success and we apologise to the parents and pupils who will inevitably be disappointed.

"Many people were attracted to the Phoenix concept and we hope to see other free schools coming into being with a similar ethos."

Oldham council had objected to the plans for a new school since its inception, arguing that it was not needed in an area that already had more than 1,000 surplus secondary school places.

The school was approved by education secretary Michael Gove in May last year after having been previously rejected in a round of applications in 2012.

A spokesperson for the DfE said that all free-school proposals had to meet “strict criteria”.

"We worked closely with the proposers of the Phoenix Free School to ensure it could deliver a high quality alternative to existing education provision in the area,” the spokesperson added.

"Unfortunately the project has been unable to reach the high bar we have set and today we have withdrawn our approval for it to proceed any further.

"Opening a free school is not an easy undertaking and we want to thank the school for all their hard work in getting to this stage of the process and for the vision they showed in trying to improve education provision in Oldham."


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