TURNING the European School at Culham into a state-funded academy would have put pupils’ education at risk, an expert close to the failed project said this week.

Maurizio Fantato, vice-chairman of The English Trust for European Education (ETEE), said hasty preparations for the transition had prompted dozens of teachers to resign.

Last week, attempts to convert the school into a 980-pupil academy collapsed less than seven months before it was due to open following years of negotiations.

The 835-pupil school, set up by the EU for children of workers at the nearby JET nuclear fusion project, is due to close in 2017 because too few pupils now have EU-employed parents.

The Government and Oxfordshire County Council had backed the plans to convert it into a multi-lingual academy, offering its education to hundreds of county pupils.

A charity, Culham Languages and Sciences (CLASS), was set up to sponsor the project, led by a board chaired by former diplomat Lord Jay. But the project collapsed when CLASS could not reach agreement with the European Commission over the transition.

CLASS refused to sign a legally-binding agreement with the European School’s board of governors. The agreement would have prevented the European Commission board from being sued by pupils or staff over any effects of the change.

The uncertainty left more than half of the school’s teachers, seconded from other EU countries, threatening to quit the new academy. They were at risk of losing their EU-funded tax exemptions and departure allowances, and many were unable to work at the new school under their own governments’ rules.

In a letter to the European Commission seen by the Herald, CLASS’s chairman, Lord Jay, wrote: “The directors of CLASS also shared the view that even if — which must be doubtful — a resolution of this issue can be found, it would not be possible to do so in the very short time that is available before the uncertainty over the future causes real risks to the future of the school through the likely decision of seconded teachers to leave, and consequent continuing uncertainty for parents and pupils.”

According to Lord Jay, the Department for Education had refused to offer funding for the academy project beyond autumn 2011, making delaying its opening impossible.

Mr Fantato, whose organisation was instrumental in launching attempts to become an academy, told the Herald: “No European school was ever morphed into a state school before and the administration of these schools involved multilateral agreements ruled by complex legislation.

“In my view, the process of transformation was too hastily conceived, putting at risk the educational welfare of the children currently in the school.

“Attempting to integrate what is in essence a European educational curriculum and standards in the English state sector would require immense political will, courage, vision and investments.

“These are ingredients I am not able to see in the present political settings.”