Union boss hits out at free school

Chapel St CEO Russell Rook
Chapel St CEO Russell Rook
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THE borough’s first free school, based in Atherton, has come under fire from local representatives of one of Britain’s largest teaching unions.

The Wigan branch of the National Union of Teachers (NUT) criticised the newly-opened school, which is run by London-based charity Chapel Street, and said the introduction of free schools by Education Secretary Michael Gove was the beginning of a plan to dismantle the state education system.

Atherton Free School opened this term in temporary accommodation at the town hall before it moves to new buildings on the site of the closed Hesketh Fletcher High School.

The school currently has around 40 pupils in its first intake, and the NUT criticised the decision to allow the school to go ahead, saying it was inefficient and had not proved there was a need for further secondary schools in the area.

Wigan NUT secretary Max Atkins said: “Free Schools are the latest attempt by David Cameron and Michael Gove to dismantle state education.

“Free Schools are meant to be built in areas where there is the need for a high school. Hesketh Fletcher High School closed down because of falling numbers, and yet less than two years later this Government has sanctioned an unnecessary replacement that has no more pupils than you would find in a large primary class.

“The final cost of this folly will be in the hundreds of thousands of pounds. If this was a Local Authority school, the government would have closed it down due to lack of demand and sustainability.

“This money has come from Wigan borough’s taxpayers and, instead of squandering such huge sums on one school, this money could have secured first-class facilities at the nearby excellent Local Authority High Schools at Lowton, Bedford, St Mary’s and Westleigh.

“These schools have a proven track record of returning record results, and some still have places where the free school pupils can rejoin the many friends they will have made in their primary schools.

“If Michael Gove really wants all local authority schools to match private education standards, he needs to reduce class sizes and increase funding and resources to local authority schools, not siphon it off to free schools.”