Media scramble to screen rising of the Phoenix
Reporter: Karen Jones
Date published: 30 January 2012
OLDHAM’S proposed military-style school is set to be the subject of a documentary.
The people behind Phoenix Free School have agreed that the BBC’s current affairs programme “Panorama” can follow its opening — after a media scramble.
The school is the idea of educational publisher and US Navy veteran Tom Burkard and Oldham-educated Army captain Affan Burki. It will be staffed by ex-servicemen and woman with a focus on basic standards and discipline.
Phoenix has not yet been approved by the Department for Education but Mr Burkard is confident it will open in September next year. The plan is to submit the application next month and the preferred location is the former Breezehill School, currently part of Waterhead Academy.
“No less than 16 TV producers have asked for rights to do documentaries. The interest from the media has been phenomenal,” said Mr Burkard, a former military instructor and lecturer.
“I have chosen Vivian White because I know him and he is trusted by the military. He produced ‘Classroom Warriors’ last year.”
“Classroom Warriors” looked at America’s “Troops To Teachers” programme which was introduced after the first Gulf War.
Since then, 15,000 ex-military personnel have retrained as teachers working mainly in tough inner-city areas. Phoenix Free School is inspired by the initiative which Mr Burkard says has been a resounding success.
In 2008 he wrote the “Troops to Teachers” report for the Centre for Policy studies, urging the Government to adopt a similar programme.
Education secretary Michael Gove included plans for former troops to receive sponsorship to retrain as teachers in a 2010 Schools White Paper.
Councillor Hugh McDonald, cabinet member for children, youngpeople, families, leisure and culture, said: “Oldham Council has always taken the achievements of our young people seriously.
“There is a strong political consensus that a free school is not only unnecessary but would compromise these improvements.”
BBC’s “Newsnight” followed the opening of Waterhead Academy, which replaced the ethnically segregated Waterhead and Counthill schools in September, 2010. Six episodes were set to be screened but the academy pulled out after just two because of concerns over the way it was portrayed.