Colleges’ free school hopes dashed by DfE rejection

Colleges’ free school hopes dashed by DfE rejection

Two general FE colleges have had their free school plans thrown out by the Department for Education (DfE), FE Week can reveal.

Croydon College’s application was rejected, it said, because there wasn’t considered to be a sufficient shortfall of school places in the local area. It was the college’s second attempt.

Meanwhile, London-based Tower Hamlets College principal Gerry McDonald (pictured), said that his had been rejected “on technical grounds”.

The college had been advised to make the “educational case stronger” before it planned to resubmit the application next month, he added.

It comes after DfE confirmed to FE Week that none of the 18 new free schools announced this month by Prime Minister David Cameron had any links to general FE colleges.

An FE Week report in April revealed that Croydon College would re-submit its free school application over the summer, after its initial submission was turned down in March because the DfE thought its plans “required more detail”.

Croydon College principal Frances Wadsworth said at the time that the planned secondary school and sixth form, with capacity for 180 students in each year, could address a local need for more pupil places and give parents an extra option over where to send their children.

The proposal was also for the school, which would have been called New Croydon Academy, to have an increased focus on science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics (Steam) subjects.

However, after the latest rejection, a college spokesperson said the “DfE, in consultation with Croydon Council, determined that on reflection there wasn’t a sufficient shortfall of schools places in our proposed location to warrant a new school”.

She added that DfE and the council also felt that “any shortfall that existed could be met by the free school provision in the pipeline and expansion of existing provision”.

“We are naturally disappointed, but would not wish to progress in opening a school for which there is not deemed to be sufficient demand,” she said.

A DfE spokesperson declined to comment on the Croydon and Tower Hamlets applications, or confirm if any more FE-related free school plans had been thrown out.

It comes after the DfE announced that a further six general FE colleges intended to take on learners from the age of 14 from this month.

The new 14 to 16 providers for 2015/16 were Cambridge Regional College (CRC), Central Bedfordshire College, East Durham College, East Kent College, John Ruskin College, in Croydon, and South Tyneside College, according to an EFA list published on Tuesday (September 1).