Proposal for a new Free ‘Citizen School’ in Lewisham

Citizen School hopes to open in September 2015. Pic: Jack Simpson

Citizen School hopes to open in September 2015. Pic: Jack Simpson

A proposal for a new Free School that will offer 800 places for students in the New Cross and Deptford catchment area has been announced.

The Citizen School is due to send an application to the Department for Education in January 2014, and hopes to open in September 2015.

The “all-through” school, which will educate four to 18-year-olds, will put citizenship at the forefront of its curriculum and encourage community participation in its pupils.

Plans include an extension of the school day, partnerships with local community groups, and employability workshops and English language classes for parents.

According to Marcus Mason, a member of the Citizen School core team, the school will respond to the area’s lack of school places.

Mason said: “We have been talking to parents in the area and have had some real distressing stories due to lack of school places. Parents have been facing some really difficult situations. As a result we felt it very important to open a school in the area.”

Mason also believes the “all-through” concept will enable an easier transition from primary to secondary education.

He said: “In Lewisham currently our Primary Schools are performing really well but our secondary schools, on the other hand, are underperforming. We think the transition between primary and secondary could be part of the explanation for the drop you might see.”

Mason added: ‘The ‘all-through’ school idea is to manage this transition. If you stay within the same institution, values and support systems can provide stability and make that transition smoother for pupils.”

Parents at an information event for The Citizen School at The Albany last Saturday were mostly positive about the concept.

Alex Rudman, a mother of two who lives on the Greenwich Lewisham border said: “Living where we do most of our closest schools are Lewisham, but as Greenwich residents we do not get priority. Last year it took me six months to find a suitable school for my child. A new school like this one would be a real benefit for those like me.”

Monica Sims a grandmother of two children from Deptford Creek said: “I like the concept of a Citizen school, the ideas they have and the image they give off really makes it feel as if the community have ownership over it.”

Still, some parents are worried about some of the school’s plans.

Nekassa Francis Aitkens, a mother from Deptford who has children that range from ages 6 to 16, said:  “It sounds great in principle, but I am confused about all different ability groups in the same school. This might stop the smarter kids from progressing like they should.”

Compared with Hackney and Tower Hamlets, Lewisham has remained largely Free School free since the inception of the idea in 2011, with Hatcham Temple Grove Primary in Telegraph Hill currently the only Free School in the borough.

Last year, Lewisham teacher of 33 years, Kay Johnston saw a third application for her Diaspora School, a Free School aimed at steering kids away from gang culture, rejected by the Department of Education.

Commenting on the Citizen School’s application in relation to past failures, Mason said: “I cannot talk for other free school proposals, but I am confident with the experienced team we have and with the public backing we have received I am sure we can be successful.”

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