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Southwark’s new primary ‘free school’ reveals plans

London SE1 website team

The promoters of the Southwark Free School - who hope to open a state-funded primary school in SE1 in less than a year's time - have held their first public meeting since winning approval from the Government.

Last week education secretary Michael Gove revealed that Southwark Free School – along with Compass Schools Trust's proposed secondary school in Southwark – had been approved to continue to work towards opening in September 2012.

Catherine Stevens of Southwark Free School Academy Trust chaired the gathering in St George the Martyr crypt on Tuesday morning attended by around a dozen parents.

Also present were some members of the Southwark Free School Trust team including Mita Bhattacharyya, Mark Goodchild and Tom Scott. The team claims to have a business consultancy background.

Patrick Shine, lead partner of the Shaftesbury Partnership, is chair of the Academy Trust board.

"We are absolutely delighted to have got this far," said Catherine Stevens. "But there are still a lot of things to be done. We are aiming to open in September 2012."

The plan is to have reception and two-form entry year 1 and allow the school to grow year by year.

But concern was expressed by several parents at the very tight timetable. Applications for September 2012 places at other primary schools have to made by January.

"There is a big job to be done in reaching people and a big job to be done in securing a building," admitted the chair.

It is understood that the team's preferred site for the school is in the Borough or West Bermondsey area.

An appeal was made for those interested in discussing a name for the school to join in group discussions.

In answer to questions it was confirmed that the school would be open 8am to 6pm to allow for breakfast and after school clubs to operate on site.

The team is working with Amanda Phillips, head of Old Ford Primary School in Bow, who Catherine Stevens described as 'outcomes orientated'. Mark Goodchild said that Ms Phillips was "one of London's finest headteachers".

The curriculum is to have an emphasis on maths and English but parents will be consulted on other areas including sport and music.

A website and email address will be set up as soon as the opening budget is released by the Department for Education. Meanwhile communication with interested parents is via the school's Facebook page.

The free school team was meeting the DfE on Tuesday afternoon. A meeting with Southwark Council has been arranged for next week.

Responding to a question from Simon Hughes in the House of Commons on Monday, Michael Gove said: "How lucky Southwark is to have such an outstanding MP, and what a pity it is that the local authority has taken a grudging response to new school provision."

Southwark Council leader Peter John used a discussion on school building schemes at Tuesday afternoon's meeting of the borough's Cabinet to get in his riposte to Mr Gove.

"We – of course – support great new local schools for young people and children," he said.

"I'm not grudging about these schools. My attitude is that we are surprised to find out about them for the first time in a letter from the Department for Education. It doesn't sound like localism and joined-up government to me. That is why we are surprised and slightly irritated about the way that Michael Gove is handling these things."

"I'm less 'Mr Angry' than I was last week," added Cllr John, to laughter from his Cabinet colleagues.

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