James Dyson’s £6m donation to primary school approved despite concerns | James Dyson

A £6m donation from Sir James Dyson to help fund the expansion of his local state primary school has been approved by the government, despite concerns about the potential impact on neighbouring schools.

The education secretary, Gillian Keegan, announced on Monday that she had given the green light for the inventor’s donation to Malmesbury Church of England primary school in Wiltshire, which is close to Dyson’s research and development campus.

It will pay for a “first-class” science, technology, engineering, art and maths (Steam) centre plus additional classrooms and, subject to planning permission by Wiltshire council, will open from September 2027, providing capacity for an additional 210 pupils, taking the total to 630.

However, responding to the announcement, the James Dyson Foundation sounded a note of caution. “The secretary of state’s approval is conditional on the local authority approving the school’s expansion before any building work can commence, which takes us back to square one,” a spokesperson said.

In a letter to The Times last year, Dyson said the donation via his charitable foundation had been blocked by officials. “It’s incredibly depressing,” he told the paper. “It is a sorry example of how hard it is to get anything done in Britain.”

His claim was denied by Downing Street, but there was local opposition. Laura Mayes, Wiltshire council’s cabinet member for children’s services, said there were already sufficient places in three local schools to meet demand.

Reports have suggested that many of the 3,500 employees who work at Dyson’s UK headquarters in Malmesbury would like to send their children to the school, but it is currently not big enough.

Keegan said: “I welcome this generous donation from the Dyson Foundation which will support cutting edge education for local pupils, helping to develop the scientists and engineers of the future.

“This new centre will provide world-class facilities for pupils in Malmesbury and the surrounding areas to inspire them and develop the skills we need to compete on the world stage.

“The £6m donation builds on the work we have been doing to boost the uptake of Stem subjects in schools and through apprenticeships and further education, boosting growth and opportunity in these vital sectors.”

Steve Heal, headteacher at Malmesbury primary school, told the Times: “We are incredibly grateful to Sir James Dyson, and the James Dyson Foundation, for enthusiastically backing the project from its inception. It’s been a long journey to get to this point.”

He said it was “a wonderful thing for Malmesbury. It is also a phenomenal opportunity to shape the future of learning through an innovative curriculum created with Dyson. This will open up a world of opportunity for children in Malmesbury and beyond.”

After the government’s announcement, Mayes said: “We have an important responsibility to ensure all our school pupils can access opportunities that inspire them and help them achieve their potential.

“Our school places strategy is our long-term plan, based on clear evidence, which maps out how we will secure sufficient school places for the future.

“Our strategy shows we have sufficient places in the three local schools to cater for expected demand and we have expressed concern about the impact that adding 210 additional places at Malmesbury primary school could have on neighbouring schools.

“However, we now have the government’s final decision and we will work with everyone involved to ensure we achieve the best outcomes for all our pupils.”

Kenneth Baker, education secretary under Margaret Thatcher, had backed Dyson. In a letter to the Times, he said: “It is almost unheard of for any large industrial company to support education in this very extended and committed way.

“If the government rejects the proposal, over misplaced concerns about excess school places, why should other industries and entrepreneurs be remotely interested in trying to improve technical education in schools?”

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