Free schools to double this month

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The number of free schools in England will double, with 93 more of the Government's flagship education institutions set to open this term.

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An additional 13 studio schools will also offer education with a vocational focus, including one specialising in early years training.  

The total number of free schools, which are state-funded primary and secondary schools independent of local authority control run by teachers or other individuals, will be 174.  

Of these, 71 are located in areas with either a shortage of school places or deprived areas. In total the new schools will create capacity for 130,000 more pupils.  

Among this month’s openings is the first bilingual free school in London, which is supported by children’s author Judith Kerr, who wrote The Tiger Who Came to Tea and the Mog the cat books.  

The Judith Kerr Primary School in Southwark will teach English literacy and phonics in English from Reception, and maths, humanities and science in both English and German.
 
Multi-academy trust CfBT Schools Trust sponsors the school, linking it with five other academies.  

The school’s principal designate Basia Lubaczewska said the school would follow the ethos that ‘early immersion is key to ensuring bilingualism for all our children, whatever the children’s linguistic ability when they start’.  

‘Throughout our school the language of instruction will therefore be well balanced between German and English, with children gaining confidence and fluency in both languages,’ she said.
 
An existing free school, Langley Hall Primary Academy in Slough, is also to open a new site this term following demand from parents.  

Its education director and executive head teacher is Sally Eaton, who is also educational director of early years training provider Childcare Company.
 
Ms Eaton said the school’s capacity has doubled every year since it opened in 2011. When a second site at a former independent school became available this year, Ms Eaton decided to enlarge the school to offer places for more than 700 pupils.  

‘We thought about it very carefully because we knew it was a big challenge,’ said Ms Eaton. ‘But we had a waiting list of 500 and there was a need in the area for more primary school places, so we made the decision to expand.’  

In Berkshire, the National Autistic Society is opening a specialist school for five- to 19-year-olds who have autism. 

Thames Valley School principal Fiona Veitch said the institution had received overwhelming support from local parents and schools for the project.
 
‘My staff team and I are looking forward to working with parents and the wider community to help our pupils achieve their goals and fulfil their potential,’ she said.  

The Devon Studio School in Torbay, one of the 13 studio schools also to open this term, will offer young people aged 14 to 19 an academic education and specialist training in early years, health or social care.  

Students will study the core curriculum through the English Baccalaureate, a qualification linked to GCSEs, as well as a health and social care diploma and a programme of art, sport and drama.
 
Deputy principal Stuart Heron said the non-selective, co-educational school aims to develop a gender balance by trying to recruit more boys.
 
‘We are going to be providing the future work force for health, early years and social care,’ he said. ‘These sectors are major employers, but there is a huge skills gap and a numbers gap.  

‘The students will be doing learning and teaching in the environment such as a nursery or hospital ward, so they’re experiencing the career they’re going to be doing in the future.’  

The studio is based on a hospital site to provide students studying health with access to placements near the school. Early years students will spend time at partner nurseries and pre-schools in the local communities, and children’s wards in the hospital.  

The school has five early education settings as partners and plans to offer more in the future as the school grows. The studio currently offers 90 places, but next year it will relocate to a new building with capacity for 300 students.  

Education Secretary Michael Gove said free schools are ‘now an integral part of the growing success story of state education in England’.

‘They are hugely popular, giving parents greater choice in communities poorly served for generations,’ he said.

But National Union of Teachers' general secretary Christine Blower disagreed and said free schools are ‘an entirely unnecessary expense’.

‘At a time when there is a chronic shortage of school places around parts of the country, in particular at primary level, many are being opened where there is already a surplus of school places,’ she said.

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