January 15, 2017 at 01:57AM

A free school supported by Michael Gove and Boris Johnson against local opposition will abruptly close next month after attracting only 60 pupils since it opened in 2012, and struggling to recruit staff and find a permanent site.

Parents of pupils at Southwark free school, housed in a community hall and temporary cabins near Old Kent Road in south London, have been told the school is expected to close by mid February, meaning the pupils will be sent to other schools in the area.

The primary school will become the sixth Department for Education (DfE) free school to close since the initiative was launched by Gove and David Cameron in 2010. Many free schools have struggled to find sites.

Victoria Mills, Southwark council’s cabinet member for children and schools, said: “The government must learn lessons from this free school failure. New schools need community support and to be located where there is a demand for places, and should be run by outstanding and established educational providers.

“With no option to open our own schools, the council will continue to be pragmatic in our approach to free schools. We will work with providers who share our commitment to get the very best for Southwark children and want to deliver schools where there is demand for places.”

The closure was announced last week in a letter to parents. According to DfE figures, the primary school had 63 pupils spread across four year groups, as of last year. But Southwark council said it now has 56, 14% of the 420-child capacity.

“Unfortunately, it has been extremely difficult to recruit high-calibre permanent teachers, and pupil numbers remain very low,” the school’s governors told parents in the letter.

Southwark council said the headteacher was the only permanent staff teacher, with supply teachers and teaching assistants taking lessons.

The governors said no academy chains were interested in taking over management of the troubled school.

“The governing body has considered whether the school should join a multi-academy trust, however, during these discussions, the feedback we received was that even as part of a strong trust, due to our low numbers, Southwark free school would not be viable in the medium term.”

Many free schools, which are set up in a process overseen by Whitehall rather than local councils, and until recently could be given the go-ahead by education ministers before securing planning permission, have found it difficult to locate permanent homes. In several cases, openings have been delayed or cancelled.

But Southwark free school’s problems have been particularly acute. In 2013, the council rejected a planning application to have a school included in a housing development on a former industrial estate.

The decision was overturned by the then mayor of London Boris Johnson. But the prolonged uncertainty about its permanent home – the school was due to move in September – meant it struggled to attract pupils.

Data shows the number of parents who opted to send their children to the school was significantly lower than those who said they would in the school’s official application form.

The DfE has not released details of how much the school has cost, but its accounts for 2014-15 show premises costs were £656,000, equivalent to more than £10,000 per pupil.

A DfE spokesperson said: “Following a request from Southwark free school, we have agreed in principle to the closure of the school. There will now be a period of two weeks for the public to submit their views before a final decision is made.”

The 345 free schools created since 2010 had added thousands of good school places, many of them in disadvantaged areas, the DfE added.

from Education | The Guardian http://ift.tt/2jMW2cu