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Plug pulled on military school

Reporter: Karen Doherty
Date online: 03 March 2014

‘Victory for common sense’
THE Government has pulled the plug on a controversial military free school set to open at Fitton Hill in September.

It says Phoenix, “would not be able to meet the rigorous criteria set for fee schools”. The news has been welcomed by Oldham Council as a “victory for common sense”.

The borough already has too many secondary school places and the council had opposed the school, fearing at least one of Oldham’s new multi-million pound academies could be under threat if the Phoenix opened.

Phoenix was given the green light to open in May after initially being turned down a year earlier by the Department for Education.

Staffed by former forces personnel — who didn’t have to be qualified teachers — it was set to open in the former Marland Fold Special School while a new building was constructed next door.

It promised a “grammar school” education with a strong emphasis on literacy and numeracy, sport, adventure activities and competition.

It aimed to embody Army values — but insisted that the playground wouldn’t be a parade square, nor a recruiting ground for the armed forces.

The school has been unable to recruit a £60,000-a-year head following the resignation of principal designate Rick Hodges in September following his failure to get a reference from a previous employer in Canada.

Tom Burkard, who led the Phoenix project, said in a statement: “We regret to confirm the DfE has withdrawn funding for the Phoenix Free School and it will not open this September. 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.”

Free schools are state-funded but independent of local-authority control, run by groups such as parents, charities or businesses. Criticisms have included not employing qualified teachers and opening in areas where they are not needed.

Councillor Amanda Chadderton, cabinet member for education, said: “The potential risk to the future of young people in our borough was central to our objections. We always welcome vision and new ideas, but didn’t believe this scheme offered either. We felt strongly the issue of surplus school places was key.

“This year there were 1,108 surplus secondary places in Oldham. Phoenix would have added another 780 places. We felt Phoenix would produce major problems which far outweighed its unproven benefit. It would have also undermined years of long-term planning and financial investments that have already been made in education facilities and provision in Oldham. We didn’t believe this offered value for money to the taxpayer.”

Councillor Chadderton added: “We will, of course, be at hand to provide support to any families who need an alternative school place for their child.”


Excellent. A doolally concept strangled before it was even born.

Couldn't be more delighted! Not a fan of the DfE as a rule but this time they are spot on. Why anyone thinks that people who have little or no experience of the education of young people would do anything other than serious damage to these children baffles me. Nobody would sanction unqualified doctors being let loose on their children without any supervision, so why allow unqualified teachers? Glad to see the back of this farcical idea.

This is excellent news. Children shouldn't be used as as guinea pigs in idealogical experiments like this.

A bit of discipline is sorely needed in schools these days , a backward step there by the government I'm afraid.

I think it's wrong that the plug as been pulled on this school, I've been to every meeting they have held and all there values that they would of brought to the children where brilliant my child was already enrolled from the first meeting they where that good. This is just another thing that the council are scared of "CHANGE" they should of give this school a chance they might of learn't a few thing to prevent the way the other school around Oldham are under achieving.

So the Army failed where Collective Spirit succeeded. Just shows the difference between what a group of local people who are committed to the town can do compared to a group of outsiders coming in to fix the town.

Would like to see the Cron interview Cllr Chadderton on the dire OFSTED inspections across the majority of Oldham's secondary schools. If our educational offer wasn't so poor then maybe people like the Phoenix wouldn't try to come to Oldham in the first place

Good riddance! There are many things wrong with the mainstream education system but employing ex-military personnel in the belief that they were some sort of magical panacea for its ills, was at best naive.

I'm sure that the teachers at this now cancelled venture would have concentrated heavily on the "3 R's". Discipline is a requirement at any school nowadays, unfortunately lacking though. Certainly wouldn't go amiss.

So where are these 1108 spare places.. Oldham Council keeping saying they have to build new schools. Saddleworth is next. So where are these spare places..

As of 31/8/13 (latest point available) Ofsted Data View on Oldham secondary schools shows 58% as Good or Outstanding at last inspection, so the majority do not have dire inspection reports.

An all too rare victory for common sense. Shaun McGrath sums it up perfectly.

Mind you, judging by the standard in at least one of these replies, a bit more focus on literacy wouldn't go amiss.

The reason why free schools are popping up in oldham is because academies are not doing well either all the academies in oldham have either failed their Ofsted inspection or have poor results recently the sponsor of oldham academy north e-act had ten schools taken away from it by the dfe for poor results and financial irregularities

"fearing at least one of Oldham’s new multi-million pound academies could be under threat if the Phoenix opened" go check out the Ofsted report(s) for the new multi-million pound John Henry Newman College and see just how badly that traditional academy is constantly failing by a huge margin to meet grades and academic expectations!

To clarify, Newman College isn't an academy. It's simply two Catholic schools that merged so a new school could be built under BSF.

Take out Hulme and the 2 exclusive Cof E schools, that leaves schools that ordinary people have a chance of sending their children to. Only Saddleworth and North Chad comes out well. Every other school in Oldham is delivering exam results below the national average and/or their OFSTED inspections have them under Notice to Improve.

These spare places that the Council keep going on are about are all in the failing schools.

@John Price - surely discipline and good behaviour should begin at home with parents/carers? Surely a school's main focus should be on academic achievement and progress rather than just discipline?
@Chron13 - Saddleworth will be a replacement of the existing school building, not a new school

I'm amazed, I agree with Shaun McGrath; and NobblySam expressed exactly the thought that went through my mind.

Common sense at last well said NobblySam and Bramble

There are so many problems in Education, but trying just one school with a different approach to discipline has to be howled down.


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