Row over free school proposal

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PROBLEMS with plans for a free school in Rotherham are being kept in the dark by ministers, according to Wentworth MP John Healey.

Mr Healey has discovered that Education Secretary Michael Gove has rejected the business case for the Three Valleys Academy, due to open in September 2012.

But he says Mr Gove had no plans to make the decision public - and adds governors have been given a second chance to draw up a viable plan.

The academy, to be based at a disused Sheffield University building at Manvers in the Dearne Valley, is being opposed by Rotherham, Barnsley and Doncaster councils, who say extra school places are not needed in the area.

Mr Healey said he had made a number of requests asking Mr Gove to publish the Three Valleys proposal and evidence of support, but all were refused.

A Freedom of Information request had also failed.

“It is wrong that this whole process is secret, despite public money being spent which should be supporting the education of all,” he said.

“I’ve always questioned the company involved’s credibility and capacity to run a school. The Department for Education’s decision confirms their business case was weak but they’ve been given another chance - so the fight isn’t over.

“We also don’t know anything about how the academy plans to manage important things like admissions and looking after children with special needs - because the company haven’t been in touch with the local council as they are supposed to.”

Chairman of the academy company, David Mann, said he had contacted Rotherham, Doncaster and Barnsley local authorities by letter and email. He said: “None of the authorities have ever offered a meeting to discuss our proposal and approaches to them have either been declined or, in some cases, ignored.

“The reasons for the proposed new school are simple - the Manvers new town development needs it, while the academy will raise the bar for educational standards.”

A Department for Education spokesman said: “The process for establishing a free school is set out on the Department for Education’s website where we have been publishing regular updates.”