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A free school run by ex-servicemen has had its approval withdrawn by the government.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“Unfortunately, the project has been unable to reach the high bar we have set, and today we have withdrawn our approval for it to proceed any further.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A statement on the school’s website said: “We regret to confirm that the Department for Education has withdrawn funding for Phoenix Free School of Oldham and it will not open this September.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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