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Military-style school moves a step closer

PLANS to open a school in Oldham staffed by ex-soldiers will be submitted to the Government by the end of next week.

Backers of Phoenix Free School say they have signed up 194 pupils — well above the 120 required by the Department for Education — for September, 2013.

They are putting the finishing touches to the application which must be submitted by 6pm on February 24.

The school, which is opposed by Oldham Council, is the idea of education publisher Tom Burkard and Army officer, Capt Affan Burki.

The former Breeze Hill site is the preferred location and would be paid for by taxpayers.

Pupils would receive intensive instruction in English and maths and undertake adventure activities. They would then follow a curriculum of maths, English, sciences, history and modern foreign languages, with other subjects provided by community volunteers.

Ex-service personnel would “promote discipline and character building”.

Mr Burkard said: “Things have been going extremely well on the recruitment front. We have signed up 194 pupils and these are a fairly accurate representation of the area where we have been recruiting.

“We probably have a three-to-two ratio between whites and Asians. We are not trying to engineer it, but we are delighted to see it is something that is coming through.”

Mr Burkard said that the school would operate a lottery for places if oversubscribed. Pupils would sit a non-verbal reasoning test before being split into ability bands, with equal numbers selected randomly from each.

The Government’s free school programme gives parents and others the chance to open their own schools. They are outside local authority control but state-funded and non-selective.

The first 24 opened last autumn following 323 bids.

The latest round of applications opened yesterday and those short-listed will be invited to an interview.

Mr Burkard added: “If the application is approved, Partnership for Schools will spring into action to try and negotiate the purchase of the Breeze Hill site. If that amounts to nothing, we will look at others.

“We hope there is strong enough support in the community that the council will bite its tongue and do what’s right for the Oldham ratepayers.

“It was a huge mistake to close down Breeze Hill. The facilities there, the sports facilities, we would not have anywhere else. Were Oldham Council to sell it for development, I think it would be a tragedy.”

Schools minister Lord Hill said: “When we opened the first round of applications for free schools, there was plenty of scepticism. Would anyone really want to open a new school? Would busy parents and teachers find the time to do it? The answer to these questions was a resounding yes.

Date article online: 14/02/2012

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