Surprise plan for new Wigan free school slammed by furious politicians and unions

Wigan Council cabinet member for children and young people Coun Jenny BullenWigan Council cabinet member for children and young people Coun Jenny Bullen
Wigan Council cabinet member for children and young people Coun Jenny Bullen
Shock plans for a new free school in the borough approved by the Government have been slammed by top Wigan politicians.

Coun Jenny Bullen, the local authority portfolio holder for children and young people, blasted the Department for Education (DfE) for the “unacceptable” decision to approve the new secondary school while existing establishments are starved of cash.

Other news: Wigan author's sixth novel takes readers back into wartime dramaWigan MP Lisa Nandy also joined in the criticism, accusing the Government of squandering money on free schools.

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The DfE has given The Great Schools Trust the go-ahead to create the King’s Leadership Academy Wigan at a location which is yet to be confirmed.

Wigan MP Lisa NandyWigan MP Lisa Nandy
Wigan MP Lisa Nandy

It is one of a raft of the controversial free schools approved for the North West and across the country.

The announcement of a new high school for the borough came out of the blue, with MPs and teaching unions having no inkling of the plan until the Wigan Observer contacted them for comment.

The new free school will teach children aged 11 to 16 but beyond that very few details have been released.

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The Great Schools Trust says it has permission to proceed and is now entering consultation with Wigan Council.

But Coun Bullen accused the DfE of lavishly spending money on new projects in education while not supporting schools with a proven track record of success.

She said the announcement came hard on the heels of the failure of Wigan UTC, which could not get enough pupils to attend to remain viable.

Coun Bullen said: “In Wigan borough over 90 per cent of our schools are good or outstanding.

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“Our excellent track record deserves appropriate national government investment - our children deserve it and our schools and school staff deserve it.

“Unfortunately the DfE continues not to invest in our local schools but can find significant sums of money to build new schools under their free school approach without engaging with or listening to our local knowledge of what is needed to continue to improve local education.

“We know from experience that local decisions by local elected representatives, who know the education needs in their communities, prove far more effective than decisions taken in London without consulting local education leaders.

“Following immediately from the disappointing closure of Wigan UTC, again a provision and decision taken out of local hands, to announce a new school without prior notice or engagement with our local education partnership is unacceptable.”

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Ms Nandy also referred to the failure of the New Market Street technical college as she tore into ministers over the new school.

She said: "It’s astonishing that the Government is funding a new school just weeks after closing the UTC, leaving students without any support during the critical GCSE years.

"Over the last decade billions have been wasted on new free schools and academies, many of which have closed.

"In the meantime every school across Wigan faces a funding crisis.

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"This government hasn’t got a clue what it is doing and our children are paying the price.”

Teaching unions have also expressed unhappiness with the DfE’s move.

Max Atkins from the Wigan branch of the National Education Union said: “We don’t want free schools in Wigan, it is as simple as that. We are not happy about this.”

The Great Schools Trust already has three establishments, in Warrington, Bootle and Liverpool, where it also runs the Aspire Centre. It is opening a school in September in Bolton.

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The five successful applications for new free schools in the North West will create an extra 4,500 places, the Government has said.

Ministers said they have allowed the new establishments to be created in the most underperforming areas where the need is greatest.

Free schools are funded by the Government but run independently of the local authority.

Education secretary Damian Hinds said: “Many parts of the country have already taken advantage of the free school programme and have reaped the benefits.

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“A great education is the key to unlocking every child’s potential so we are announcing new free schools so more young people – often in the most disadvantaged areas – can benefit from a great free school opening in their area.”