Marco Polo Academy scrapped - but what does this mean for school places in Barnet? (From Times Series)
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Marco Polo Academy scrapped - but what does this mean for school places in Barnet?
Parents and campaigners faced a “bitter blow” at news that a Chinese school they had been fighting to open has been scrapped.
The Marco Polo Academy, which supporters hoped to open in Burnt Oak, was approved by the Department for Education (DfE) in January – but the authority has since backtracked on its decision.
It was due to open to primary school pupils in September 2014, but the news means the 53 children who had been offered a place have been forced to reapply.
But the DfE said the bilingual Chinese and English school was “not inclusive enough” and that the campaign group behind it were “not ready” to run a school.
Laura Chan, one of the parents behind the project, said: “We feel their reasons were unfounded and unjustified.
“We wholeheartedly disagree with what they’ve said. From day one, we said our whole project was based on being inclusive.
“The biggest thing is that we’ve had to let our parents down. They put their trust in us and supported us, and we took on that responsibility in return.
“We feel emotionally drained. After celebrating the school's approval, this has come as a bitter blow.”
Parents have been unsuccessful in trying to secure meetings with a DfE representative to appeal the decision.
However, they have vowed to press on and reapply in 2015 as prospective parents are still keen to see the project go ahead.
Pavillion Fields, in Burnt Oak, was due to be sold to the Marco Polo Academy and housing developer Taylor Wimpey earlier this year.
But the deal was controversial because the land was given to Barnet Borough Council in 1985 on the understanding it would be used for sports.
This now casts uncertainty on the contract with Taylor Wimpey, as the authority argued there would be a loophole if the school had a play area built into it.
GLA member for Barnet Andrew Dismore had always argued the nearby Peel Centre was a more suitable location.
He said: “Will the council now put on hold the sale of Pavillion Way and can we have our playing fields back?
“The council should look at campaigners' plans to bring them back into use as badly needed, and decent pitches.
“I don’t like free schools, but I do support the concept of a bilingual school – that is a good idea.”
The Marco Polo Academy was heavily oversubscribed and earlier this year, Barnet Borough Council hoped the school would help meet the rising tide of children looking for places in the area.
This year, the authority received 5,029 applications for primary school places and 92 per cent of pupils have received one of their top choice three schools.
Eight pupils who applied on time are currently awaiting an offer, and the council admitted it is experiencing an “even higher” demand for school places.
Millbrook Park Primary School, in Mill Hill East, will open this September and Martin, Moss Hall, Brunswick Park, Menorah Foundation, Beis Yaakov and Oakleigh Schools will be expanded to create 1,500 new permanent places.
It has spent £88million on permanently expanding or rebuilding schools in the past five years, and has plans to spend a further £49million on future developments.
A statement from the council said: “The school, offering bi-lingual education in English and Mandarin, would have added to the variety of education available in Barnet.
“There continues to be a demand for primary school places in this area and the new free school would have helped to meet that demand.
“We continue to work with our existing schools in the area to meet the demand for places for this September and beyond.”
The DfE said: “All free schools must meet strict criteria, including on providing a high quality of education and good value for money.
“Unfortunately the Marco Polo Academy project was unable to reach the high bar we have set and so we have withdrawn our approval for it to proceed any further.”
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