Plans for controversial 'blended learning' academy thrown out by councillors

Ark Pioneer Academy would have seen curriculum taught by computer software packages as well as teachers

Martin George

Martin George

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Proposals for an academy with a 'blended learning' learning model, which heralded a new role for computers in English schools, have been thrown into disarray after its planning application was thrown out.

The Ark academy chain had hoped to build Ark Pioneer Academy on the site of the Underhill Stadium in Barnet, the former home of Barnet FC.

The planning application, from the Education Funding Agency (EFA) and construction company Bowmer and Kirkland, envisaged a nursery, primary school, secondary school, sixth form and sports facilities, which Ark hoped would open in September 2018.

However, despite planning officers at Barnet Council recommending the application be approved, its planning committee threw it out on Wednesday.

As previously reported, the school planned to import the "blended learning" model from America, which sees pupils taught by teachers part of the time, and by computer software packages at others.

Ark has said it hoped the method would make better use of teacher time, further personalise learning and "increase the reach of great teachers".

The plans raised union concerns about the possible loss of teaching jobs, and the effect on the quality of education, when they were first revealed by TES in 2014.

‘Inappropriate development’

Ark originally hoped the school would open in September 2015, but the plans were held up by concerns about the site.

The report for Wednesday’s planning committee said the application represented “‘inappropriate development’ on green belt land and as such is only justified if very special circumstances exist”.

However, it added: “Recent appeal decisions from the planning inspectorate have accepted the need for school places can be a very special circumstance which could justify inappropriate development on green belt land.

“In this case, officers consider that there is a clear and demonstrable need for both primary and secondary school places.”

It added that no alternative sites that could meet the need were available.

Local residents had raised concerns about congestion, traffic safety and parking.

TES has contacted Ark and the EFA for comment.

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