Objections at plans for free school

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PLANS for a new ‘free school’ in South Yorkshire have moved closer after winning Government approval, despite protests.

The Three Valleys Independent Academy, to be based in a former Sheffield University nursing school at Manvers, near Rotherham, hopes to open in September.

It will have 850 places and hopes to attract pupils from Swinton, Wath-upon-Dearne, Rawmarsh, Parkgate, Barnsley and Doncaster.

The building was used to train nurses and midwives and needs only limited modifications to be a school.

Free schools are a flagship policy of the Government, which wants to see parents, businesses and teachers setting them up to provide alternatives to existing provision.

They are independent from councils, can set up their own curriculums and receive direct Government funding.

Academics are now working on a detailed business plan for Three Valleys and are contacting potential contractors and suppliers.

Critics say the school will drain funds away from other secondaries in the area – to the tune of more than £2 million a year – and is not needed.

But retired businessman David Mann, new chairman of the project, believes families deserve more choice.

He said: “We welcome the approval from ministers to let us move forward. We hope to see the opening of South Yorkshire’s first free school at the earliest possible date. The target is still to open in 2011.

“This is a significant development and one which will make a positive impact on children, families and wider communities of the area.”

Three Valleys is one of two free schools planned in Rotherham, the other hoping to open in the town centre.

Wentworth and Dearne MP John Healey said: “The Government seems determined to drive this through irrespective of the case for doing so or the consequences for local schools.

“I have a meeting with Education Secretary Michael Gove this week when I will make clear that this free school plan lacks credibility and would threaten schools, taking money from them when budgets are already being squeezed because of Government cuts.

“I spoke to him some weeks ago and gave him a copy of my report which can have left him in no doubt that I, headteachers and local councils have very real concerns.”

But Mr Mann said there had been a good amount of interest from parents.