A free school in Bradford that was just days away from opening its doors to its first pupils has had its funding withdrawn by Education Secretary Michael Gove.
The One In A Million school, set up by a local voluntary organistation, was aiming to cater for around 50 children in its first year but attracted less than 30 pupils. Falling short of the required number to make the funding economical, the parents were told last Friday that the school would not be opening. The decision has left them little more than a week to seek alternative arrangements for their children, having already paid for uniforms and equipment."
Janet East, a parent who has started a petition in protest at the decision, said: "We are devastated with the news. I can't bring myself to tell my son. James has got special needs and he just won't manage in a mainstream upper school.
"The choice we have now is a massive school with 1,800 children in it." Adding that she had no suspicion the school would fail to open, Ms East said: "We'd bought uniforms, we had no idea at all." Ms East blamed the Government's delay in approving One In A Million originally for the failure to attract enough pupils.
Free schools are defined as "all-ability state-funded schools set up in response to what local people say they want and need to improve education for children in their community". They form one of the Government's flagship education policies.
Labour councillor Ralph Berry, who oversees Bradford's schools, blamed the Department for Education for taking the "cowardly" decision at such late notice. "It's a shocking situation," he said. "When you pull the plug on a school project eight days before the school starts, who's got to pick up the pieces? If a local authority behaved like this in the delivery of its own services, they would be sending the commissioners in to take us over." Cllr Berry added: "It is a dysfunctional and chaotic approach to what ought to be a co-ordinated service."
Last night the One In A Million website still stated: "The One in a Million Free School is a brand new secondary school for children aged 11-18 and we will open with a year 7 intake of 50 pupils in September 2012."
A spokesman for the Department for Education, who confirmed that the decision was a ministerial one, said: "Setting up a Free School is a difficult task and we thank One in a Million for all their hard work. Before any new schools open their doors, we have to be sure that all conditions that we set have been met. Making certain new schools raise standards is one of the reasons why our Free Schools have been so popular across England. We still hope that One in a Million will open in 2013."