Leader’s free schools blast as council hands over land

Reporter: Karen Doherty
Date published: 07 January 2014

OLDHAM Council leader Jim McMahon last night launched a scathing attack over the issue of Oldham’s free schools, branding them “an outrageous use of public funds”.

At a special cabinet meeting Councillor McMahon took a swipe at the popularity of free schools saying: “Just find yourself on Hollinwood Avenue and see how many children are going into the Collective Spirit Free school. You can count them on a couple of hands. It really is an outrageous use of public funds for what is a political project.”

Oldham already has a 1,108 surplus of secondary school places, despite which the new Phoenix School will open in September.

Councillor McMahon’s attack came as councillors agreed to hand over a demolished site in Rosary Road to Phoenix - which will be staffed by ex-military personnel - for 125 years at a peppercorn rent.

They also decided to let the neighbouring former Marland Fold Special School to Phoenix until its new school, which would be funded by the Department for Education (DfE), is built.

An agreement will be drawn up with Fitton Hill Bulldogs amateur rugby league team to use the adjacent playing fields.

Councillor McMahon said that the council had taken a pragmatic view on Phoenix so that it could get the go-ahead to free North Chadderton and other former secondary school sites for housing.

“When we went through the debacle with the South Chadderton School site and Collective Spirit, we saw first hand that the Government cares little about what Oldham Council’s opinion is and that it is very willing to impose a solution on us that isn’t in our interests or the town’s interests.”

Phoenix will open in September with up to 120 Year Seven pupils and would eventually have capacity for 840 pupils, including a sixth form.

Project leader Tom Burkard said: “We are delighted to have the Marland Fold site, and we have already made contact with local residents and community groups. This site is accessible to pupils living anywhere in central Oldham and our mission is to serve the entire community.”