PARKFIELD School yesterday announced its plans to close down with the majority of pupils set to start the next academic year at a new school.

But the school has had a 'troubled and often chaotic' history since plans were first drawn up for the area’s first free school in 2011.

Its most recent Ofsted inspection took place in January 2023, where it was rated as ‘requires improvement’ across all five categories inspected.

At the time of the inspection, the school had 504 pupils on its roll, from age four to 16.

Currently run by the Reach South Academy Trust, all families with children at the school will be written to by BCP Council in the week beginning June 17 to outline their transfer to other schools.

Those entering Year 11 for the 2024/2025 academic year will remain at the school until they have finished their courses.

Parkfield School’s beginnings

The Daily Echo first reported on ‘ambitious’ plans for a new school for Bournemouth and Poole in February 2011, with plans to open in September 2012.

This was a part of the new Conservative government’s free school initiative, established in 2010.

This planned for schools to be founded that were funded by the Department for Education and independent of the local authority.

The plan was approved by the DfE, but as reported, the plans had not initially identified premises to use for the school.

The school was set to open in September 2013, but was met with problems that meant pupils were forced to spend the first week of term learning at a scout camp.

It was due to open in the Dorset House office block in the Lansdowne, Bournemouth, but after the bill to refurbish the building tripled to more than £1.1million, the work had fallen behind schedule.

But the building was only due to house the school for two years, while a permanent, purpose-built school was built by the DfE.

In 2015, the school was rated as ‘requires improvement’ by Ofsted.

Move to former air traffic control centre near Bournemouth Airport

Instead of a town centre site, a former air traffic control centre site was selected in January 2014 to be the new home of the school, with plans to move pupils in for the start of the 2016/2017 academic year.

Parents reacted angrily to the news that the school would be moving out of Bournemouth town centre, where they had been promised it would remain, although the then-headteacher, Terry Conaghan, said the school had ‘no choice’.

But problems with asbestos and bats were blamed for numerous delays, with pupils only beginning their studies at the new site in September 2017.

A special investigation by the Daily Echo and the BBC in 2016 revealed that the school had attempted to hide the extent of the asbestos in the new buildings, and that the school had been claiming money for a higher number of pupils than were enrolled.

The DfE had also refused to reveal the full cost of the project, which was believed to be around £35million.

Plans for a sixth form at the school were also shelved in February 2016 and the school was left searching for a new sponsor just months before it was due to move into its new site at Hurn.

In September 2017, the school finally moved into the new site, and it was announced that it had become a part of the Reach South Trust.

Reach South Academy Trust management

Just months after the trust took over, the school ranked as the worst performing school in Dorset in GCSE results in January 2018.

Only 33 secondary schools nationwide had a lower score in the rankings from the government, with the school admitting its performance was ‘utterly unacceptable’.

Also in January 2018, the Daily Echo reported that the school would have to pay back £772,000 in grant money to the government for receiving money for more pupils than were enrolled.

Then, in 2021, a freedom of information request revealed that the school cost the taxpayer £20million in premises overheads alone.

This included £3.1million in refurbishing and renting Dorset House, £13.8million on renovation and building works at the Hurn site, plus £3.1million on acquiring the site.

At the time, Reach South said the figures would be repaid to the Education, Skills and Funding Agency, and that the school had ‘gone from strength to strength’ since it took over.

In 2022, the school applied to BCP Council for permission to use a field opposite the school for a playing field, but this was refused, with the airport commenting that the plans were ‘misleading and deficient’.

Then, in January 2023, the school was rated as ‘requires improvement’ by the education inspectorate.

What has the trust now announced?

Yesterday, June 14, Reach South Academy Trust announced it had written to the DfE to recommend that the school close ‘by mutual consent’.

This is due to ‘unsustainable numbers of pupils’.

Should the closure be approved by the DfE after a listening period, there would be a ‘phased closure’ of the school.

Every year group other than those heading into Year 11 for the next academic year would leave the school at the end of this academic year, in July.

The Year 11s would continue at the school to finish their courses.

For more information on this, visit the school or BCP Council’s website.