Tower Hamlets may get its first free school

Artist's impression of free school in Tower Hamlets

A proposal to open the first “free school” in Tower Hamlets is being considered by the Department for Education. The new primary school, which would open next September and be run by the Constable Education Trust (CET), would provide much-needed school places in the borough.

Free schools are all-ability state-funded schools, set up in response to what local people feel they need in order to improve education for children in their community.  Over 20 free schools have started since the coalition government came into power.

Although this is the first school CET is proposing to build in Tower Hamlets, it has 17 years experience of setting up new schools and their management. Members of the Trust will be meeting with the Director of Children’s Services in Tower Hamlets on Monday, September 19. Their goal is to use the derelict site of the former Artichoke pub in Stepney Way, E1, by commissioning a low-cost, new built school where money would be spent on equipping the school with excellent resources to support the children’s learning.

Ronda Fogel, director of CET, said: “There is a real shortage of outstanding primary school places in this area and our new school would go some way to addressing that – offering places for up to 75 reception and year 1 pupils from September 2012. Our proposed school will be an attractive, welcoming environment where children’s challenges and talents are recognised early.

“We want to build firm relationships with families to help every individual child achieve their highest potential.  Our school will be at the heart of the community, providing places to meet and learn for pupils’ family and friends. CET admits it is currently not working with local parents but Fogel added: “If we receive a positive response to our plans, we will begin a period of consultation in order for stakeholders, including local parents, agencies and interested parties can tell us what they think of the proposals and help shape their new school.”

The new CET primary school, if approved, would be mainstream and attendance would be free. It would support high academic achievement and progress. Children would be taught the national curriculum as well as modern foreign languages, a range of sports, ICT and creative subjects.

The Mayor of Tower Hamlets, Lutfur Rahman has publicly welcomed the idea of free schools in the borough. He said:  “We will work to support any new free schools where possible.”

The first 24 free schools were approved in August, and started this month. Education Secretary, Michael Gove, said: “The most important thing for any parent is to be able to send their child to a good local school, with high standards and strong discipline. That is why we are opening free schools across the country.

“Too many children are being failed by fundamental flaws in our education system. The weakest schools are concentrated in our poorest towns and cities, and we are plummeting down the international education league tables. By freeing up teachers and trusting local communities to decide what is best, our reforms will help to raise standards for children in all schools.”

Penny Roberts is the force behind St Luke’s Church of England Primary, a free school in Camden, which opened to a class of 15 pupils in the past week. She told BBC London: “The vision is for a local school with a close community ethos to meet local needs.”

In spite of the support for free schools by the coalition government, the NUT argues it will harm local resources for education. Paddy Marshall is the NUT’s, London regional officer. He said: “The NUT is very firmly opposed to the introduction of Free Schools for many reasons. They undermine local democracy, free schools are not accountable to people elected by the local community. The money going to start free schools will come at the cost of other schools. The effect of small groups starting free schools is divisive and works against community cohesion. The NUT believes in a good local school for every child and every community, free schools do not provide this and work against this principle.”

The Asian Parents Association for Special Education in the borough told ELL that the issue of free schools was a “big question,” as they only serve as a support system for their clients – 99 per cent of whom go to state schools which are free.

The Department for Education is expected to make a decision by the end of September on whether to allow the Tower Hamlets primary school proposal to move forward to the next stage.

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