Primaries dominate first batch of free schools

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Seventeen of the 24 'free schools' which will welcome their first pupils this term are primary schools.

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Among these pioneers are a Montessori school, and a school which will offer extended hours to provide 'wraparound' childcare for working parents before and after school and on Saturdays.

There will also be five secondary schools and two 'all age' schools.

But the free schools programme remains controversial and has been criticised by teaching unions and opposition MPs, who are concerned that it will take funding away from other schools and will mainly be used by middle-class families.

The Department for Education said that half of the 24 schools are based in the most deprived 30 per cent of areas in the country.

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.'

However, research by The Guardian this week disputes the Government's claim that free schools are concentrated in areas of deprivation.

An analysis carried out for the newspaper of catchment areas for the first 24 free schools found that most of the areas within ten minutes' commuting distance are made up of middle-class households, having 57 per cent better-off, educated and professional households, compared with 42.8 per cent for England as a whole.

The Government has also come under fire, after emails came to light suggesting that advisers close to Michael Gove pressed him to fast-track the £500,000 contract for giving advice to those wishing to set up free schools to the New Schools Network.

Shadow education secretary Andy Burnham said, 'There is a severe lack of transparency around the free schools programme. It appears that cheques are handed out like confetti to certain favoured projects, while mainstream schools are left to crumble with their building projects cancelled.

'This is no way to run a Government department or to allocate public money. Michael Gove must urgently explain the contents of this email and answer whether he asked civil servants to depart from usual protocols to award this grant to a charity to which he has close links.'

Patrick Roach, deputy general secretary of the NASUWT, the largest teachers' union, said, 'There is no guarantee about the curriculum that will be provided in these schools or that pupils will in future be taught by qualified teachers.

'There is no guarantee that free schools will raise standards of education. The evidence from Sweden, the pioneers of free schools, is that these schools often perform worse than other schools.

'Free schools will be able to set their own admissions rules, meaning local children could be denied places at local schools.

'There are also serious concerns about the lack of transparency around free schools. The Government is spending huge sums of money without proper scrutiny.'

'A creative curriculum'

Langley Hall Primary Academy,which opens on 12 September, has been set up by Sally and Chris Eaton.

They previously ran the Manor Tree Group of nurseries and prep schools, and now run training organisation the Childcare Company.

Nursery staff and teachers will be trained using the company's e-learning programmes as well as receiving hands-on training.

The school is based in an historic grade II listed building bought from Berkshire College by the trust that runs the school.

It is five minutes' walk from the school's 114-place nursery, Wellingtons for Langley Hall, which is housed in a refurbished office building.

One of the school walls is inscribed with the date 1666. From 1915 the building also housed the Actors' Orphanage, which had Noel Coward as a patron, and it was also the headquarters of RAF bomber command during World War Two.

The Noel Coward Foundation has donated £1,700 to buy a grand piano for the school.

The building has been refurbished at a cost of £1.6m.

Mrs Eaton, (pictured), said she was 'absolutely staggered' by the amount of interest from prospective parents.

She said, 'We were oversubscribed, so parents were accepted on their proximity to the school.'

The school has a number of children with special educational needs, who were given priority if Langley was named on their statement.

Sixty children are on the waiting list.

The school had expected to start with just 75 pupils, but demand has been such that 182 children, from reception age to 11 years old, will start this term in classes of 26.

The school will open from 7.30am to 6pm and offer out-of-school and holiday clubs.

'A good number of parents want these facilities and we've listened to parents' needs,' said Ms Eaton.

Dance, drama, art and music are key features of the curriculum.

Mrs Eaton said, 'Every lesson will be taught in a creative way. Children will use all their senses to experience learning. We've put our own take on the national curriculum.'

The school also has a film and radio studio and will have its own TV channel featuring programmes the children have made.

Two new schools

Crawley

The Discovery New School in Crawley, West Sussex, will be the first state-funded primary to adopt a whole-school Montessori approach.

The school's prospectus says, 'Achievement and independence are built into the way we teach and help children to become self-disciplined and caring. This is part of everything that we do, from how children line up, how they help others at lunch and how they clear away after every activity.'

The school will have a Christian character in the Anglican tradition, but will welcome 'all faiths and none'. Class sizes will be limited to 16 and children will be taught on a one-to-one and small groups basis in mixed-age classes, split between Reception/Year 1 and Year2/3.

The school is situated in a Grade II listed building in Broadfield Park. Facilities include a cooking room, art room and music studio. Children also have direct access to an undercover outdoor area.

Norwich

The Free School, Norwich, will open 51 weeks of the year and offer extended provision for working parents during the holidays and on Saturdays.

It is based in a Georgian Grade II house in the centre of Norwich but is open to families from all over Norfolk.

Wraparound care is provided by Squirrels Extended School, open to all children who attend the school. It operates during term time and throughout the school holidays from 8.15 am to 5.45 pm. Costs are planned to be kept to a minimum for parents.

The school year is made up of six terms, with a two-week holiday between them and a four-week holiday in August. The terms are called Harvest, Christmas, Winter, Spring, Whitsun and Summer.

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