Plagued free school move delayed yet again

A free school plagued with problems at its proposed new site next to an airfield – including asbestos and the threat of unexploded bombs – is delaying its move for a second time.

Parkfield school already postponed moving into new buildings at the former national air traffic control training centre next to Bournemouth airport. Parents were originally told the school would change sites in the autumn last year, but this was put off until September 2016.

Now, a letter sent to parents from Matt Clarkson, chair of governors, confirms the move is again put off until September 2017. Clarkson said the delay was the latest in a “series of setbacks” for the school, which since opening in 2013 has been housed in a former office block, Dorset House, in Bournemouth town centre.

The Department for Education (DfE) would not provide costs for the delay, but said expenditure would be published when “all the construction work is complete”.
The free school has been riddled with problems since its inception.

Last year Schools Week revealed that a number of pupils from Germany were temporarily enrolled at the school during the time of the annual census – the method by which the government counts pupils to decide a schools’ level of funding.

At the time, the school was criticised for being “unethical” in boosting numbers at this point in the school year, and therefore being able to access more funding from the government.

Parkfield has since been told it must repay £500,000 to the Education Funding Agency (EFA), after it was found to have “lower pupil numbers than expected”.

Asbestos had to be removed from the site, and a report seen by Schools Week showed the former RAF site was a bomb target during the Second World War, with pipemines containing explosives laid on the airfield as a deterrent to German troops. The report said the mines were a “credible” explosives threat.

The Bournemouth Echo reported this week that the EFA told the school not to tell parents about asbestos on the site.

It reported that an email from an EFA project director said: “My understanding of our last discussion on this was that you would not mention asbestos to parents.

“As we discussed the general public do not understand the management of asbestos ie that it is usually safe unless disturbed.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said it had agreed the students would not move to the new site in September, that work at the airport site would continue, and it would work with the school to improve the environment at the current site, Dorset House.

Schools Week has previously reported that more than 50 free schools had their opening date postponed and the delays had cost the taxpayer at least £12 million.