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Primary Education News
News Education in brief: DfE spends £1.1m on free school's temporary site
More than £1.1m is to be spent refurbishing an office block that will house a free school for two years; GCSE English literature changes may be a barrier for less able pupils; DfE ignores 98% vote against Harris transfer in official consultation
Scouting for classrooms
The Department for Education is spending more than £1.1m refurbishing an office block that will serve as the temporary site for a free school for the next two years.
This is the latest chaotic episode for Parkfield school in Bournemouth, which was originally scheduled to open in 2012. It is now due to open next month – not in the office block itself, but in a scout camp outside the town – as the building work is yet to be completed.
Three weeks ago, the school's principal, Terry Conaghan, told Education Guardian that the work was on track to allow the school to open in early September.
But in a letter sent to parents just a week later, Conaghan wrote that a building survey had uncovered the need for extensive electrical and ventilation system work on the office block.
"The quotes for the cost of this work trebled the original budget set for the refurbishment to more than £1.1m. This obviously had to be approved by the government, and I am pleased to say that ministers did approve the additional funding." The work was two weeks behind schedule, he added.
A spokeswoman for the DfE said: "Parkfield free school will open in September. Refurbishment costs have risen owing to vital maintenance work to ensure the building is safe for pupils."
More than 30 senior examiners in English literature are writing to the DfE to warn that changes to GCSE courses in the subject could lead to a "dramatic national decline" in the numbers taking it.
New rules, which set out how GCSEs should be constructed from 2015, place much more emphasis on the Romantic poets, of whose work Michael Gove seems to be a fan.
A DfE consultation has proposed that exam boards should be required to set papers that ensure pupils study "a selection of representative Romantic poetry", alongside a Shakespeare play, a 19th-century novel, post-1850 poetry and British fiction or drama published since the first world war.
The current rules stipulate only that a play by Shakespeare must be included in six texts to be studied, half of which must be British.
In a joint statement about to be sent to the DfE, the examiners write: "An exclusively academic study of Romantic poets as a discrete area would create obvious negative consequences for teaching GCSE English literature in schools."
Because the Romantic poets, such as the Williams Wordsworth and Blake, deal with complex themes to which many modern pupils may struggle to relate, there is a danger that English literature will become exclusive to only the most able pupils. And the examiners say that, with schools under pressure to improve English-language results, teachers may focus on this at the expense of English literature.
A Dfe spokeswoman said: "The study of great literature is valuable to all students and our proposals cover a wide range of literary texts."
A lack of consultation
The DfE has directed the transfer of Camden junior school in Carshalton, Surrey, to the Harris academy chain despite 98% of respondents to an official consultation voting against it.
In a lengthy explanation of his reasons, Lord Nash, the academies minister, wrote that the local Greenshaw high school – the overwhelming choice to sponsor the school among the 545 staff, parents and members of the community consulted about the changes – had "biased" the process by encouraging parents to support its bid.
Parent campaigners were left wearily pointing to the fact that the consultation form itself was published at the back of a 10-page Harris brochure, setting out Harris's claims. Parent Susan Whitfield said: "Why do they bother consulting parents and then do what they want anyway?"
Lord Nash said Greenshaw's plans to take on Camden lacked the detail set out by Harris on what it would do to improve standards.