Following the riots of 2011, the idea of a new Free School staffed entirely by former military personnel was mooted by Tom Burkard and Affan Burki in a report they wrote for the Centre for Policy Studies. Their proposals were originally rejected by the DfE last year. “NEVER SURRENDER!” advised their patron, former Chief of the Defence Staff, Field Marshal Lord Guthrie.
Taking this to heart, they re-applied this year – and their application has now been accepted: a Phoenix Free School is now scheduled to open in Oldham (a town in which only about 1% of children get the exam grades necessary to get to a good university) in September 2014. It will be the first school in Britain—and quite possibly in the world – where all of the teachers will be veterans of the British Armed Services. However, this is not a 'military school'. Rather, it will more closely resemble a top independent school – with the crucial difference that all the pupils will come from one of Britain's most deprived and racially segregated communities. Former officers and NCOs know this should be no barrier to academic achievement—and this belief will transform pupils' attitudes to themselves and to their school.
Over the next 15 months, Tom Burkard and Captain Burki will have the daunting task of converting this radical concept into a working school. To up the stakes a bit, Panorama is following them every step of the way. But they already have located two vacant properties. They have key personnel in place, including a potential head. They have a radical new curriculum. They have first-class advisers with experience in setting up new schools. Above all, they have great support on the ground from the parents of would-be pupils. And as an earlier founder of a Free School has told them, “...although there remain plenty of hurdles ahead, they really will be a hell of a lot lower”. They accept that, just as for their future pupils, so it is for them: there will be no excuse for failure.
Burkard and Burki’s original CPS report was titled Something can be done. The excellent news, particularly for the children of Oldham, is now that Something is being done.