Plans for Hackney’s first free school

Pupils at a London free school pic: Hammersmith and Fulham council

A proposal to open the first free school in Hackney is being put together by a group of local residents in response to the lack of secondary school places for local children in the borough.

The Hackney New School steering committee are preparing an application for an “outstanding” and “innovative” school to provide secondary school places for children from the least privileged backgrounds in Hackney.

Organisers of the application for the new school include: Cambridge educated and corporate finance advisor Andreas Wesemann, violinist, composer and music educationalist Sophie Solomon, and commercial and financial lawyer James Watters.

If approved by the Department for Education next spring, Hackney New School will offer 100 pupils places for its first intake in September 2013.

Currently, 30 per cent of pupils at all ages attend secondary schools outside the borough. Organisers hope the opening of a new school will encourage more children to gain an excellent education much closer to home.

The Learning Trust, responsible for running education services in Hackney, states the number of Hackney residents allocated places outside the borough has decreased year on year as more secondary schools have opened.

This year alone saw 17.5 per cent of children transferring from year 6 to a secondary school outside their borough. This compares with 24 per cent in 2009.

A spokesperson for The Learning Trust said: “Some parents do choose to send their children to schools outside the borough. Families who live close to neighbouring boroughs may find that an out of borough school is closer to them, for example, or they may have religious reasons for doing so. This is their choice, and does not mean that there are not enough places in Hackney.”

Despite The Learning Trust’s statement of there being enough secondary school places for children in Hackney, Stacy Armstrong, father of three from Hoxton told EastLondonLines he was happy for a new school to open in the borough after he struggled to find a secondary school place for his daughter last year.

He said: “I think the more schools we have, the better. We had trouble finding a place for our eldest child in a secondary school – but we were lucky and got one of the last places.

“What I want from a school is a good education, but it is also important for me to find a secondary school that is close to local primary schools where my other children go.”

Andreas Wesemann, from Dalston, one of the key figures behind the free school application said: “We want to create an innovative school that fits in well alongside existing schools.

“If we can effectively demonstrate there is a demand for a new school in Hackney, then wouldn’t it be wonderful to set up a school in a rundown estate with a great outcome. Pupils from mixed backgrounds who didn’t dream of going to one of these schools will get the chance to.”

The secondary school will cater for students aged 11 to 18, and have a music specialism. Pupils will be required to learn a range of foreign languages including Latin or Greek, which Wesemann says will be “rewarding and enriching for pupils”. He added: “The fact that no one really speaks Latin is beside the point. It is beyond purely linguistics.”

As well as following the national curriculum, the school plans to offer an additional program called The Core – an innovative course that was developed in the 20th Century by Columbia University to encourage oral debates and presentations on the most challenging questions about human experience.

Wesemann said: “A lot of people find it a stimulating course. It supports the more narrow focus of the standard curriculum and, as such, provides an additional element of freedom in exploring rich subject matters.”

Since the project was launched last week, the Steering Committee has received numerous responses and feedback on the website from parents supporting the application for a new school in Hackney.

In a survey conducted by the Learning Trust this summer, local residents had the option to vote for whether they want a new school run by Mossbourne Trust, to open as either an academy or free school. According to the Hackney Citizen, 69 per cent of respondents voted for the academy option, leaving only 10 per cent in favour of a free school.

Free schools are funded by the government and independent of local authority control. They are set up by members of the community including teachers, parents, charities, and businesses to improve education for children in their communities. Free schools have the freedom to vary the curriculum, term times, and teachers’ pay and conditions. The first 24 free schools opened in September 2011.

For more information, and to register your support for the new school visit:

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