Beds, Herts & Bucks

Luton Girls' Academy free school backers given £180,000

Kingsway, Luton
Image caption The Luton Girls' Academy announced last month it would be built on a Bury Park industrial estate

The trust behind a failed plan for a Luton free school received £180,000 of public money before ministers blocked the project, it has been revealed.

The Luton Girls' Academy, which said it would be built on a site in Bury Park, was due to open in September.

The Department for Education (DfE) said the trust received two Project Development Grant (PDG) payments before it was decided it had not met the "rigorous criteria" for free schools.

The school has yet to comment.

Image caption Lord Nash said the project had "fallen short of rigorous criteria"

All free school projects approved to enter the pre-opening stage are paid a PDG to support it through to opening and if a project is withdrawn from the programme, payment is stopped, the DfE said.

A spokesman said it would now "take steps to recover any unspent funds" from the Harpenden-based ACE Trust Limited, which was to run the school.

'Insufficient progress'

Former secretary of state for education, Michael Gove, backed the plan for the 800-pupil, publicly-funded, single-sex, free school for 11 to 18-year-olds last May before the trust had found a suitable site.

Last month, the trust announced the school would be built on a Bury Park industrial estate but in a letter to Luton MP Gavin Shuker, schools minister Lord Nash said "insufficient progress" had been made on the academy's plans.

The DfE did not expand on which standards had not been met by the trust, but government free school application criteria includes educational and financial expertise, budget planning and affordability and premises.

Luton Borough Council has said there are "sufficient school places remaining" for all pupils who had applied to attend the school.

The school has not responded to the BBC's requests for an interview.

Free schools

  • Free schools were much talked about in the run-up to the general election in May 2010 and were given approval in the Academies Act 2010 under the coalition government
  • They are set up by groups of parents, teachers, charities, businesses, universities, trusts, religious or voluntary groups, but funded directly by central government
  • Schools can be run by an "education provider" - an organisation or company brought in by the group setting up the school - but these firms are not allowed to make a profit
  • They must submit a full business case, which is then judged against other free school proposals and scored for strengths and weaknesses
  • The schools are established as academies, independent of local authorities and with increased control over their curriculum, teachers' pay and conditions, and the length of school terms and days

Source: BBC

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