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Commonweal's academy free school bid is knocked back
COMMONWEAL School’s bid to open a sixth form free school in 2013 or 2014 has been rejected by the Government.
The performing arts academy, in The Mall, Old Town , applied to the Department for Education to establish a school catering for 16 to 19-year-olds.
But headteacher Keith Defter said that despite positive feedback, it was turned down at ministerial level.
The Government announced in July it had approved 102 new free schools to open in 2013 and beyond, including five 16-to-19 schools, however only nine will be in the south west and none will be in Swindon or Wiltshire.
Free schools are similar to academies in that they are independent of local authority control and have more freedoms.
In a letter to parents, Mr Defter said: “Despite having progressed through both the bid and interview stages of the application, we were rejected at ministerial level.
“This is disappointing given the positive response to our bid and presentation.
“The good news: It is clear from conversations with Educational Funding Agency (EFA) members that our case for sixth form provision remains a strong one. We need now to pursue a different strategy to realise our ambition, which remains a sixth form from 2014.
“Since it remains the prerogative of an ‘outstanding’ school to operate across the 11 to 19 age range, the issue is now one of securing capital funding for new sixth form build. We have already begun working closely with the EFA and hope to have made significant developments early in the autumn term.”
Mr Defter was unavailable for further comment due to the school holidays.
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “All free school applications go through an extremely rigorous process before being approved.
“In this case, we judged the plans had not progressed sufficiently for it to proceed.”
The department refused to comment further on the reason for refusal.
Coun David Renard , Swindon Council’s cabinet member for children’s services, said he was in principle in favour of sixth forms, but suspected the Commonweal’s bid was rejected because there are a surplus of post-16 places in Swindon.
He said: “I doubt if the Government is going to want to commit money into providing additional places at this point in time, when there are already other places at other sites.”