Parents who are campaigning for a new secondary school in the Victoria Park area of Hackney have voiced their opposition to suggestions that a ‘free school’ could be established in the locality.
The Learning Trust, the body which runs education services in the borough has opened a public consultation on using the premises of the Cardinal Pole Secondary School in Victoria Park Road for a new school, once the Roman Catholic establishment moves to Morning Lane in central Hackney in 2012.
The Trust says it wants views on whether a new school should be established at all, and, if it is, whether it should be an academy or ‘free’ school, which would be outside the control of the Trust.
Two existing Hackney academies, Mossbourne and City, have both expressed interest in running the new school, which could open in 2014 and would provide places for up to 120 extra children. But Mossbourne has also indicated it would make the new establishment a ‘free school.’
The Victoria Park area campaigners are concerned that they may be left out of the picture as the two academies vie for the building, but are particularly alarmed at suggestions the new establishment could become one of the new ‘free schools’ which have been touted as part of David Cameron’s ‘big society’ concept to give more say to parents and teachers..
For the past tw0 years, governors and parents from Lauriston, Orchard, Gainsborough and Kingsmead primary schools, supported by local councillors, have been lobbying for a new secondary school in the Victoria Park area. They argue that their children are badly served by existing provision.
Cris De Gjuia, the parent of a seven-year-old child at Orchard school said: “We have no local school so we are always at the bottom of the list for admissions. We have been campaigning for a new school for about two years now. Cardinal Pole School would be big enough for a four form entry school if we could partner up with another academy.”
He added: “Most people in the campaign want an academy. They are worried that if it will be a free school it could take children from out of the area and we would be left out again.
On Monday, Michael Wilshaw, headteacher of Mossbourne, told the Guardian that he is proposing an overflow “free school” to cope with demand from parents. Wilshaw said: “We turn away over 1,000 children every year. It will be a Mossbourne two, in the south of the borough, where provision is not that good, offering a balanced and broad curriculum. Our aim is that 70% will do the English baccalaureate.”
The borough has already drawn attention from free school group, Rivendale, as a potential free school site. Rivendale’s project manager, James Woods told the Hackney Citizen he has recently submitted a proposal to open a free school near the Hackney – Haringey border that could open up as early as September 2012.
Free schools are privately-run using money from central government. They have fewer restrictions, permitting them, for instance, to set their own curriculum, choose the subjects taught and alter the length of the school day or term.
While free schools may not run for profit, critics say they risk privatizing state schooling. Like academies, free schools can set aside the national curriculum and adjust teachers’ pay and conditions. They can also run their own admissions.
De Gjuia added: “People want to have control over intake and we want the Learning Trust involved. By being a free school the Learning Trust would have no control over it or the authority to inspect.”
“Michael Wilshaw seems to think he has already got it. [Cardinal Pole] We are a bit surprised about that. We haven’t been told about it. We aren’t happy about it being a free school. The council have emailed to say that Mossbourne has expressed a desire to take it on but they haven’t made a decision as to how it going to run. We hope there will be enough people to say we don’t want it to be a free school.”
Penny Wrout, another parent, said: “Many of us would like a local authority school but we realize that, in the current climate, the best scenario is probably another academy. In the end we would rather have a school than no school.”
The consultation runs until July 8. For further information about the proposals and to have your say, visit www.learningtrust.co.uk/consultations