£180,000 price of the Phoenix

Date published: 07 March 2014

A TEACHING union says at least £180,000 of taxpayers’ money has been “wasted” on Oldham’s failed Phoenix Free School.

The National Union of Teachers says figures show the Department for Education (DfE) made two payments of £90,000 to Phoenix, lastt July and November, believed to be for setting-up, recruiting staff and other incidental costs.

The state-funded but independent school, which would have been staffed by former military personnel, was approved last May after initially being turned down. It was to have opened in the former Marland Fold Special School at Fitton Hill, in September.

The Chronicle revealed on Monday the DfE had pulled the plug because Phoenix “would not be able to meet the rigorous criteria set for free schools”.

Nigel Yeo, secretary of Oldham NUT, said: “Education secretary Michael Gove has serious questions to answer over this scandalous misuse of public funds.

“He approved the school’s application at its second attempt, even though the authority and the NUT had made him aware this would have added to the surplus of places in the area.

“It comes as no surprise the plans have been stopped; many free-school applications have been amateurish in the extreme. Phoenix was one.”

The NUT had been investigating Phoenix’s pupil application process and Mr Yeo added: “It appears to have been in serious breach of the DfE’s School Admission Code.”

He added: “It is a disgrace the school was allowed to recruit staff and pupils before the DfE was convinced it met the criteria for opening.”

A DfE spokesman said an attempt would be made to reclaim unspent funds.