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BURNLEY’s controversial first free school has received the green light for funding from the Department of Education.

Backers behind Burnley High School said it was a ‘significant step’ after the government announcement that it met the criteria for school funding.

The exact amount is not yet known as it depends on pupil numbers and how many qualify for free school meals.

It comes after a consultation period was held by Chapel Street, the charity behind the proposed school which is scheduled to open in September.

The next hurdle is local authority approval of the school’s preferred site, the former Habergham High School.

Russell Rook, chief executive of Chapel Street, said: “We have received the news that many of us have been waiting for – the Secretary of State has agreed to enter into a Funding Agreement for Burnley High School. This is a significant step in moving forward to open the school in September.”

Headteacher Dawn Forshaw said: “I understand the importance of ensuring more children in Burnley remain in the area for education, rather than travelling to schools outside of the town. I am looking forward to working with parents, children and the rest of the school’s staff to achieve high academic standards.”

MP Gordon Birtwistle also welcomed the news. He said: “I am absolutely delighted and believe that it will improve our local education landscape and drive up standards in schools. For too long, hundreds of children leave Burnley every day to be educated in neighbouring towns.”

But Lancashire’s NUT representative Simon Jones said: “It’s no real surprise the Department for Education has backed the scheme as it is their policy to encourage free schools. It is still something which will have a very bad effect on the local educational system. All it does is remove democratic accountability for education away from the local authority.”