A FREE school in Bournemouth which as of last year had only 31 pupils across its youngest two year groups, has cost the taxpayer £20 million in premises overheads alone, a freedom of information response has revealed.

Renovating and building works on the permanent site for Parkfield School, next to Bournemouth Airport, cost £13.8 million, the Department for Education revealed, while a further £3.1 million was spent acquiring the site.

The government also spent £1.9 million renovating a former office building in Bournemouth which was the school’s temporary home for nearly four years after its opening in 2013, the response revealed. The total costs spent in this category appear to have been in the region of six times more than the original budget.

Furthermore, the taxpayer spent £1.2 on leasing this temporary site.

The figures have been released three and a half years after that relocation to the permanent home.

Parkfield was originally supposed to open in September 2012, in an office block location on the edge of Bournemouth’s town centre.

When such premises failed to materialise, its opening was put back by a year, and opened in a scout camp outside of the town. It then moved to another office block called Dorset House.

Parents had been told that the cost of refurbishment work at Dorset House had spiralled to £1.1 million, from an original budget which the then-principal, Terry Conaghan, said had been less than a third of that.

The total cost now reported was now £1.939m. The FOI response also listed lease payments for Dorset House of £1.2m.

Parkfield moved out of the office block to the airport site in September 2017. But in 2019, a set of accounts from the free school trust for 2017-18 showed it was still making leasehold payments for the temporary site a year later, some £296,000 was owed in the year 2018 for this lease.

The school was rated “requires improvement” twice by Ofsted, in 2015 and, most recently, in 2017 – and in terms of pupil numbers.

The school was transferred to a multi-academy trust a year after it moved to the airport site, in September 2018. But the latest annual accounts for the trust which took it over, Reach South, show a continuing financial legacy.

Reach South seems to have inherited debts to the government from Parkfield, with £551,522 owed to the ESFA.

A Reach South spokesperson said: “These issues are largely historic, dating back to 2013 and 2014.

“Parkfield joined Reach South in 2018 and since then has gone from strength to strength.

“During that time, GCSE results have improved and are now above the national average, and our pupil numbers have grown from 412 when we took on the school, to 480 last year.

“We can confirm that the lease of Dorset House ended at the end of August 2019, one year after the school joined us and there are no further lease commitments relating to previous premises.

“It is correct to say that there is a legacy debt, but as we make clear in our published accounts, this will be repaid to the Education Skills and Funding Agency.”