PLANS for a Wigan free school have suffered a major setback after a local further education college withdrew its support.
The governing board of Winstanley College has pulled out of its agreement to develop a Sixth Form at the new school being built by London-based charity and social enterprise Chapel Street, citing a lack of funds.
Chapel Street and Winstanley College will now look for alternative ways of working in partnership together within the constraints of government funding.
The free school, which will teach 11-16 year old pupils, will be built on a site yet to be determined, after approval was granted by Secretary of State for Education Michael Gove last month.
However, despite the Winstanley setback the organisation said it remained very confident that the new school would open as planned in September 2012.
Chapel Street CEO Russell Rook said: “We are obviously very sorry that the arrangements we originally had with Winstanley to help provide our Sixth Form are not going to work out, because they are an excellent college.
“However, we are still talking to them to see if we can partner with them in other ways, and we are looking at working with a range of partners.
“At the moment we can’t say exactly where we are up to in terms of getting premises, because we are working together with the government’s Partnership for Schools, and looking at a range of facilities across Atherton.
“Of course we would like a bit more time to get things together, but many people in our organisations have worked on academies in a shorter time.”
Chapel Street held a public meeting in Atherton to clarify the project’s position last week, saying they were still looking for a suitable site for the school. There are also concerns over where the teaching staff for the new school will come from, with Chapel Street saying they intend to enter into an arrangement to borrow staff from Fred Longworth High School.
The free school is opposed by teaching unions, who say it will not do anything that currently existing schools in the area cannot do, and will divert crucial funding away from comprehensive education.
Max Atkins, secretary of the Wigan branch of the National Union of Teachers (NUT) said: “They haven’t got anything in place. There is no way a building fit for purpose, i.e a large secondary school, will be ready for September 2012.
“They are planning to take on 90 pupils in the first year seven group. This will have a serious impact on neighbouring high schools, which will almost certainly have to make teaching and support staff redundant as a result.
“We are also concerned about the new school borrowing from Fred Longworth to provide some of the curriculum. Who will be teaching Fred Longworth pupils when their teachers are delivering lessons at the free school?
“The plan is all smoke and mirrors. I think the Atherton community are being badly let down with this false dawn.”