The education secretary has approved a controversial £6 million donation from Sir James Dyson to a school in Wiltshire, despite warnings it could have a “severe impact” on the viability of neighbouring settings.
Gillian Keegan announced today she had green-lit the donation from the Dyson Foundation to Malmesbury Primary School. The money will fund a “a first-class science, technology, engineering, art and maths (STEAM) centre”.
“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,” she said.
The decision was referred to ministers by the Department for Education’s regional director.
Dyson, known for its range of vacuum cleaners and other appliances, is headquartered in the Wiltshire town.
However the proposed donation has prompted fears about the impact on other schools at a time when primary rolls are falling.
Laura Mayes, Wiltshire’s cabinet member for children’s services, told local media there were “already sufficient places in the three local schools to cater for expected demand”.
“We have expressed our concern that a potential 210 additional places at Malmesbury Primary school would have a severe impact on neighbouring schools, reducing their pupil numbers and putting their future sustainability at risk.”
The Times reported last October that education officials had initially blocked the billionaire’s donation, with Dyson writing in the newspaper that it was “a tragic example of how politicians’ actions fail to match their rhetoric”.
Downing Street denied the donation had been blocked at the time.
New centre could open in 2027
According to the latest government records, Malmesbury Primary School has a capacity of 525, and has 481 pupils on roll.
The DfE said the expansion would see “purpose-built rooms equipped for design, technology, art, science, and mathematics-based activities as well as additional classrooms”.
If planning permission is approved by Wiltshire Council, the new centre is expected to open to pupils in September 2027.
Keegan said the 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 £6 million 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.”
Responding to Keegan’s decision, 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…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.”