THE headteacher of an independent school insists its free school move will provide value for public money amid concerns that taxpayers’ cash could be used to pay off existing loans.
It has emerged the Government is planning to buy land and buildings at Holy Trinity International School’s (HTIS) Birmingham Road site in Kidderminster from International Education Systems (IES) before the free school opens there in September.
Lead opposition education spokeswoman on Worcestershire County Council, Liberal councillor Fran Oborski, said cash from the sale could be used to pay off a £1.3 million loan from IES and buildings handed back to Holy Trinity for it to continue to be used as a school, questioning whether the move “really” represented value for money.
Headteacher Pamela Leek-Wright said it would “add a major new physical asset to the maintained school system in Kidderminster, at considerably less cost than many other recent free schools”.
She said a new trust would run the free school, separate from the current management, as IES would not be involved in the new set-up.
Following a Freedom of Information request, the Department for Education confirmed it was “in negotiations to purchase land and buildings used by HTIS from IES for the Holy Trinity Free School, following an independent valuation”, but did not reveal how much for.
Financial accounts submitted by Holy Trinity trustees to the Charity Commission for years ending August 31, 2011 and 2012 respectively, showed between the two years the school consolidated debts due within two years to several other IES-owned schools across the world into the £1.3 million IES loan, which can be paid back after five years.
The DfE says free school applicants must prove they are financially viable in order to succeed.
Holy Trinity’s free school bid in 2012 – for September, 2013 – was unsuccessful, but it was accepted when it applied again a year later. The DfE told The Shuttle its criteria had not been “sufficiently met” during the first bid.
Ms Leek-Wright said the move’s aim was to give parents a wider choice of school and make Holy Trinity’s education available to those previously unable to afford it.
She added: “The initial capital cost of each new free school place at Holy Trinity is due to be half the average initial capital cost per place at the 84 free schools which opened last September.
“The establishment of a free school at Holy Trinity is not just what local people have been demanding - it also represents value for money.”
But Cllr Oborski said: “All the details should have been made public in order for a fair discussion to have taken place.”
Free schools are non-profit making, independent state-funded schools, which have an obligation not to be academically selective.