THE British inventor and entrepreneur Sir James Dyson is asking the Education Secretary to intervene after both the Department for Education and the local authority turned down his £6-million donation to a Church of England school.
Sir James had offered the money to Malmesbury C of E Primary School, in the diocese of Bristol, to build a dedicated science and technology centre. The school, rated Outstanding by Ofsted and oversubscribed, is close to Sir James’s technology campus.
AlamyThe businessman Sir James Dyson, pictured in Malmesbury in 2018
In a letter published in The Times on Monday, Sir James wrote that he had been trying for a year to make the donation. “Land is available at no cost and 94 per cent of local people support the scheme. But the local authority and Department for Education say no, citing the risk of other schools having insufficient numbers. They would rather hundreds of Malmesbury’s children commute unsustainably, by bus, to outlying village schools, and deny parents a choice to send their children to this outstanding local school.”
The expansion plans include seven new classrooms and a school hall, which would increase pupil numbers, over time, from 420 to 630.
Persimmon Homes has given the land as part of a housing-development agreement. Wiltshire Council is opposed, however, on the grounds that numbers would drop at primary schools in the surrounding villages.
Sir James’s letter continued: “Britain’s state schools are desperate for investment. I am ready to give the money for a scheme that would make Malmesbury the rival of any private school. If the Government is serious about being a science superpower and levelling up, then I implore the education secretary to intervene and give parents what they want — and the country the sort of investment that will help achieve the superpower status the government says it craves.”
The offer was announced on 2 March, when Sir James said: “Dyson has grown in Malmesbury for the past 30 years and many of our engineers either studied at Malmesbury School themselves or have their own children there now.
“We have long supported the school and simultaneously been on a mission to inspire more engineers all around the world. The creation of a new STEAM [science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics] centre, right here in Malmesbury, will enable the school to be a pioneer for this age range, encouraging problem-solving and hopefully long lives as engineers.”
The school’s head teacher, Steve Heal, was quoted in The Times as saying that he did not believe that the gradual expansion of the school’s population would harm neighbouring schools.
“It seems crazy that they should look this gift horse in the mouth. Not since Victorian times has someone been this generous to the state sector in primary schools,” he said. “It will be such a shame if this cannot go ahead, and it really does hang in the balance. I hope that common sense and vision prevails and a seize-the-future attitude wins out.”
The director of education for the diocese of Bristol, Liz Townend, said on Tuesday: “The Diocesan Board of Education are aware of the proposed donation of funding to Malmesbury CE Primary school, a single academy trust in the diocese of Bristol, for development of their buildings and curriculum as a STEAM centre for pupils at the school and potentially the wider area.
“The DBE have shared their thinking with the board of trustees at the school and contributed to the public consultation, commenting on some of the complexity and nuances around such a project for the school and wider community over time.
“We are expecting a decision from the Regional Director today [31 October] for referral to the Secretary of State.”