Burnley’s first free school has been given the green light by education chiefs – but has been branded a “flagrant waste of tax-payers’ money”.
The Burnley High School, as it will be known, is set to have a “Christian ethos” when it opens in September next year.
It will be run by London-based company Chapel Street and be independent of Lancashire County Council. Burnley Life Church will be a supporting partner.
The school will specialise in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) with a focus on sustainable living and project-based learning.
Dr Russell Rook, Chapel Street chief executive, said: “We are delighted that the application for Burnley High School has been successful in reaching the implementation phase of the Government’s Free School process. The success so far is down to the many teachers, community leaders and volunteers in Burnley who initiated the vision for the school and subsequently worked tirelessly to develop and share these proposals with families and residents.”
Dr Rook added that it would be deliberately smaller than many secondary schools, and would grow to accommodate 650 students by 2020.
But the proposal was slammed by key education figures in the town including Stuart Smith, the headteacher of Thomas Whitham Sixth Form, who branded it a “flagrant waste of tax-payers’ money”.
Five new secondary schools and a new sixth form centre were built in Burnley under the £250m. Building Schools for the Future programme.
Mr Smith said: “Given the amount of money that has been spent on Burnley’s education provision in recent years, I would say as a tax-payer this is a flagrant waste of money.
“There is also currently a surplus of places in Burnley’s secondary schools so again I can’t see the point.
“I thought that the country was in the middle of an economic crisis. The Government is cutting the amount of money being spent on post-16 education and yet wants to build an 11-18 school, which will put pressure on Burnley’s existing providers. From an education point of view, the school says it will offer a Christian ethos but I believe parents in Burnley already have a choice of faith schools.”
County Coun. Marcus Johnstone echoed those comments and described the plan as “a complete nonsense.”
“There is no need for this school. Our primary schools are bursting at the seams and yet this has been proposed. However, if it goes ahead we will work with it.”
The news was announced on the Department for Education’s website which said that “free schools are state-funded, independent of local authority control with the freedom to decide their own curriculum.”
Burnley MP Gordon Birtwistle has backed the scheme.