EXCLUSIVE: DfE employs property guardians to occupy empty former free school in Manchester

Janet Downs's picture

The building formerly used by the defunct Manchester Creative Studio is being occupied by property guardian company, Global Guardians, Freedom of Information reveals.

Manchester Creative Studio (MCS) opened as a free school for 14-19 year-olds in 2014 and closed four years later following an inadequate rating, a Financial Notice to Improve in 2016, and problems recruiting pupils.    The DfE says it is ‘holding’ the MSC site together with the site of Collective Spirit Free School (CSFS), Oldham, which opened in 2013 and closed in 2017 following an inadequate judgement.  

The two separate but connected trusts running these two schools owned the freehold for their respective properties with a ‘charge’ in place in favour of the education secretary to protect the value of each site.  I wanted to know what was happening to each site and whether there were plans to return the CSFS site to Oldham council which had alleged it had lost £4m in land grabbed by the DfE for CSFS.

As well as ‘holding’ each site, the DfE told me LocatED, the arms-length body to the DfE which purchase sites for free schools, managed the two properties.

The eventual fate of both sites has not yet been decided.  At the moment, a local school is using the playing fields at the now-empty Oldham free school.   The DfE told me it is working with the office of the local Regional Schools Commissioner and the respective local authorities to decide future use.  The DfE did not tell me whether it intended to hand the Oldham site back to the council.

NOTE: The trust behind MSC and the connected trust running CSFA were both named in a report from the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) which cast ‘significant doubt’ on payments made by these two trusts to a related party, Collective Spirit Community Trust.


UPDATE: 24 June 2019:  The DfE has told me the department pays nothing to property guardian companies.  Such schemes don't cost taxpayers any money and makes 'substantial savings per annum on property holding and management costs', the DfE said.


*See here and here.


CORRECTION: 14.57  Typo


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