Free school with 20 pupils branded 'a waste of money', by NUT

Anand Primary School teaches 20 children in Graiseley, Wolverhampton

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A free school in Wolverhampton has been branded a "waste of money" after it emerged it has just 20 pupils.

Anand Primary School, which opened in September, received £220,000 in government funding for its first year.

Head teacher Kulbinder Pouni said pupil numbers were low because admissions opened before a school site was found.

But the National Union of Teachers (NUT) said that free schools with "very small numbers of children" were "a major waste of taxpayers' money".

'Inefficient and costly'

Anand Primary, in Great Brickkiln Street, Graiseley, has capacity for 420 pupils between the ages of four and 11 and claims "to provide greater choice for parents" looking for "outstanding education".

Run by the Sangat Education Trust, it is based on core Sikh values but is open to non-Sikh children,

It is part of a growing number of free schools which are set up by groups and are state-funded but operate outside local authority control.

They have independence from councils to decide their budgets, curriculum and the length of their school day and terms.

Free school growth

  • On Thursday, 10 more free schools were approved by Education Secretary Michael Gove, including two in Birmingham
  • These are The East Birmingham Network (EBN) free school in Sutton Coldfield and King Solomon International Business School in central Birmingham
  • They will join 174 free schools already operating
  • A further 115 are preparing to open

Christine Blower, general secretary of the NUT, said free schools are "an inefficient and hugely costly mechanism for delivering new school places".

She claimed it was unwise to use government funds for "very small numbers of children" in free schools before they were operating at full capacity.

Instead she called for local authorities to be given the powers and funding "to open new community schools in areas of greatest need".

'Fabulous' start

Anand's head teacher Kulbinder Pouni claimed the school year had started "fabulously" despite only having 20 children.

"To put the numbers in context, we didn't have a site when admissions opened and I wasn't in place so there was a level of uncertainty for parents," she stated.

She said a "good number" of parents with prospective pupils had arranged to visit the school since September.

Education Secretary Michael Gove, who conceived the free school model, said they were "driving up education standards" as he announced on Thursday that 10 new free schools would provide 5,000 extra places.

Anand Primary School, the first of its kind in the Black Country, was officially opened by the mayor of Wolverhampton, Councillor Milkinder Jaspal, earlier.

The Department for Education was unavailable for comment.

However, Conservative MP for Wolverhampton South West Paul Uppal said he hoped the school would become a "beacon" for education standards in the city.

"I think it will eventually increase its numbers. It's going to take a bit of time but we have to challenge the status quo," he said.

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