Oldham’s Phoenix free school loses government backing

Department for Education says proposers of school staffed by forces veterans have failed to meet ‘high bar’

A free school run by ex-servicemen has had its approval withdrawn by the government.

The Phoenix Free School in Oldham will not be opening in September after the Department for Education (DfE) said it had failed to meet the “high bar” for free schools set by the government.

The school was approved to open in May last year after having been rejected in a round of applications in 2012.

A spokesperson for the DfE said: “All free school proposals must meet strict criteria. We worked closely with the proposers of the Phoenix Free School in Oldham to ensure it could deliver a high-quality alternative to existing education provision in the area.

“Unfortunately, the project has been unable to reach the high bar we have set, and today we have withdrawn our approval for it to proceed any further.

“Opening a free school is not an easy undertaking, and we want to thank the school for all their hard work in getting to this stage of the process and for the vision they showed in trying to improve education provision in Oldham.”

The Phoenix School was to have been staffed by armed forces veterans, with a head of studies who has led science departments at three private schools and previously served as a Tornado pilot.

The director of the Phoenix Free School, Tom Burkard, had said the school was oversubscribed by 85%.

A statement on the school’s website said: “We regret to confirm that the Department for Education has withdrawn funding for Phoenix Free School of Oldham and it will not open this September.

“We deeply appreciate the support we have received from everyone who has worked hard to make this project a success and we apologise to the parents and pupils who will inevitably be disappointed.

“Many people were attracted to the Phoenix concept and we hope to see other free schools coming into being with a similar ethos.”

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LCH hosts ‘Strictly Wheelchair Dancing’ for International Wheelchair Day

Liverpool Wheelchair Service hosted a special ‘Strictly Wheelchair Dancing’ event as part of International Wheelchair Day on Saturday 1 March.

International Wheelchair Day is an annual awareness day which aims to raise greater awareness of issues of accessibility for wheelchair users, as well as celebrating the difference that having a wheelchair has made to the lives of so many people around the world.

The event took place at Greenbank Sports Academy with wheelchair dancing sessions led by Strictly Wheelchair Dancing, a charity group based in Manchester which runs wheelchair ballroom dance groups for all ages and abilities.


As part of the event, a wheelchair skills session and a series of health information stalls offering advice on healthy living were also provided by Liverpool Community Health NHS Trust.

The event was attended wheelchair service users from across the city, their family and carers, and it was completely free to attend, thanks to support from event sponsors Sunrise Medical and Invacare, two leading UK wheelchair manufacture and distribution companies.

Christine McGhee explains, Clinical Operations Manager for Liverpool Wheelchair Service said:

“Liverpool Wheelchair Service supports around 10,500 adults and children who are wheelchair users from across Liverpool.

“We decided to host this event as a fun way to get together some of our service users and staff, in order to celebrate International Wheelchair Day and the huge difference that the wheelchair can make to individuals by improving their mobility, independence and overall quality of life.”

Throughout the event staff from Liverpool Wheelchair Service were also on hand to offer ‘on-the-spot’ wheelchair pressure cushion checks to help ensure they were correctly adjusted to support them, and in order to minimise the risk of sores or pressure ulcers developing.

She added, “We also wanted to inspire our service users to explore ways they can stay active despite their mobility issues, and hopefully avoid some of the common health issues associated with a very sedentary lifestyle such as the risk of becoming overweight or of developing painful pressure ulcers.”

Kathy Williams, Acting Clinical Lead for Liverpool Wheelchair Service added:

“This was an absolutely fantastic event. We all learned a lot about dancing and a great deal of fun was had by both our service users and staff alike.

“I also want to say a really big thank you to Strictly Wheelchair Dancing team for coming along to help us deliver the session, and to our two event sponsors, Sunrise Medical and Invacare for helping to make this event possible.

Image: Liverpool Wheelchair Service Team with Strictly Wheelchair Dancing

Rape and sexual assaults in the military need more than ‘kangaroo court’ justice | Joe Glenton

Informal and unaccountable ‘in-house’ procedures mean hundreds of allegations go unquestioned

The foreign secretary, William Hague, has called for an end to the use of sexual violence in war as part of the fine and timely crusade he has taken up alongside movie star Angelina Jolie. An inquest into the death of corporal Anne-Marie Ellement, a military policewoman who killed herself in 2011 after claiming she was raped by army colleagues, has fixed a spotlight on the issue of sexual violence within the British military. Today the coroner found Ellement killed herself in part due to bullying in the army and the effects of alleged rape. It has also emerged that of 200 allegations of rape and sexual assault between 2011 and 2013 in the military, there have only been 27 convictions.

To begin to understand the British military on any level it is best to start with a round of myth busting. Let us dispense with the idea that the British military is in a meaningful sense a slightly quaint but essentially harmonious family. Healthy families do not regularly inflict acts of sexual violence upon each other, and in the British forces rapes and sexual assaults seem to have become something of a banality. No comparable professional group in the UK appears to rival the military for rates of colleague-on-colleague sexual violence. I would argue this stems from a poisonous mix of unchallenged sexism, unaccountable power and an archaic military justice system.

One need not stoop to abstract identity politics to see that women are routinely diminished, downtrodden and sexualised out here in the real world. Yet in the military they are demeaned far more intensely. The general army consensus runs roughly as follows: despite the decorative value of certain specimens, “birds” are physically weak, consistently stupid and ditzy, and prone to skiving off physical training by claiming they have women problems. They can also smell nice, which is very distracting, and they talk excessively and won’t put out when required. All of which leaves a young warrior wondering what the point of having them around actually is?

Bear in mind that I say this after serving in a corps that actually contained women. Many military units do not. Does this kind of attitude lend itself to a culture of sexual violence? I would suggest it does. This kind of ingrained prejudice also goes some way to explaining the findings of a leaked 2012 survey of army personnel in which, quite regardless of rank, every female questioned said they had been a victim of sexual harassment. If we then add unaccountable power – the very stuff the military runs on – into the mix, the picture gets even bleaker.

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Heavy Going: Serious Machinery In Civilian Life

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Chances are, you’ve been at the helm of some serious machinery during your time in the Armed Forces. How can you make that the foundation of a civilian career using heavy plant machinery and vehicles? 

From Civvy Street Magazine, February 2014

It’s not often that you hear a government minister, union official and qualification body ‘singing from the same hymn sheet’, but that’s what happened in the first days of 2014, with the introduction of a new scheme specifically aimed at improving training and skill standards for those behind the steering wheels of the UK’s many fuel tankers.

Continue reading “Heavy Going: Serious Machinery In Civilian Life”

Anne-Marie Ellement: MoD urged to review care of vulnerable soldiers

Coroner says bullying, the mental effects of an alleged rape and work-related despair drove Ellement to kill herself

A coroner has called on the Ministry of Defence (MoD) to review its care for vulnerable soldiers after he ruled that bullying, the “lingering” mental effects of an alleged rape, “work-related despair” and a relationship breakup were all factors in the death of a soldier who took her own life in an army barracks.

Delivering a finding of suicide, Nicholas Rheinberg concluded that Corporal Anne-Marie Ellement hanged herself at Bulford Barracks in Wiltshire, two years after she alleged that two soldiers raped her while she was stationed in Germany.

But Rheinberg said at the inquest in Salisbury that, although the care given to Ellement in the aftermath of the allegation had been of “high quality”, the transfer of information when she returned to the UK had been “unforgivably bad”.

He said he would be recommending to the MoD that it review its suicide vulnerability risk assessment procedures and ensure that medical personnel are regularly given refresher training.

More details to follow…

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