The case against West Bridgford free school
I RECALL being invited to London, just prior to the last general election, to listen to Michael Gove and David Cameron speak about their plans for education.
The audience of head teachers was introduced to the concept of a "free school". It was explained to us as a means by which other providers could enter the education service, to meet a need in an area where the quality of education on offer was failing parents. The decision, then, by a local academy chain to try and put a free school in the West Bridgford area strikes me as being rather odd.
There are two secondary schools whose defined catchments serve the West Bridgford area, West Bridgford School and Rushcliffe School. These two schools are the highest-performing in the county at GCSE (5 A*-C, including English and Maths), they hold excellent Ofsted reports and offer well-respected post-16 provisions. Indeed, at A-level my average point score per entry is the best in the county. I would suspect most people would find it hard to justify the need for a "free school" because of a failure of educational standards in the area.
If the rationale for this free school is due to the need to increase secondary provision, or to increase choice, then this is a misrepresentation of the situation.
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There are already 11 secondary schools within a three-mile radius of our catchment area and many of these schools are deemed by Ofsted to be "good" or better. My school is oversubscribed but only by virtue of the level of interest from parents outside our catchment area. By way of example I received one application last year from a parent living in Clay Cross, a full 27 miles away.
We can presently accommodate the number of children living in our catchment area but numbers are set to rise and we have plans to deal with this.
In this time of austerity it is difficult to see how one can justify the creation of a new school in the West Bridgford area, with all of the associated start-up costs it will need for several years.
If the free school movement is to be embraced by parents then it needs to exercise responsibility. To offer parents a high-quality alternative in areas which have been poorly served may be welcomed. To seek to destabilise existing successful schools may ultimately serve the interests of no one.