Parents expecting a place at a school of their choice close to their homes will soon be in for a shock because 1 in 3 families will have to send their children to a school outside North Swindon.
The stark situation was spelt out at Isambard Community School on 15 August by a group that wants to make a bid for central government funding to set up a entirely new free school providing 240 places a year.
It would be an independent school with its own headteacher, management team and governing body but operate within a federation with Isambard School so it can share resources and skills.
Pictured, Isambard headteacher Rachel Mattey with some of the first students to leave the school in 2012
This September all secondary schools except for St Josephs Roman Catholic College have spaces. Isambard is the most full school in Swindon, although all have places because of the 2013 cohort coming through from primary schools.
But by September 2016, compared with 2012 when only 31 children attended schools outside North Swindon, there will be 237 children who will have travel to schools outside the area. In three years time there will be 717 children in the North Swindon catchment but only a total of 480 places available at Isambard and Nova Hreod schools.
With the shortfall in places Swindon Council will direct parents to other schools where there are places until the situation across the town becomes critical. Schools with places could include Swindon Academy, Kingsdown or even Bradon Forest in Purton. All will require car or bus journeys. To provide extra spaces the authority will be required to invite bids from education providers to build and run a school which means one of the large national education consortiums coming to town.
"Trying to achieve a local solution is an aim" said Kevin Gray who lives in Abbey Meads. “Many parents of children presently in primary schools do not realise this is a problem when in fact they might not have a choice of school.
"The key point about the local bid is that it will be constructed by the community for the community."
Isambard headteacher Rachel Mattey told the meeting that the aim is not to create an Isambard Mark 2. "We have comparatively recent experience in establishing a brand new school and building a senior management team and staffing body, but Isambard governors are clear that a new school would be managed independently and develop its own culture, whilst working in a federation to take advantage of the areas where resources and operational functions can be shared."
She added that the government policy requires children to remain at school or college until the age of 18 and there is considerable need to develop opportunities for 16 to 18 year olds to gain academic or vocational education in North Swindon.
The free school group is proposing to assemble and submit a bid in mid-2014 with a view to a school opening in September 2015.
For the bid to be successful, at least 360 parents will have to sign a form stating they will send their child to the new school. However there is no obligation for them to do so.
The most viable development sites in North Swindon are at St Andrew’s Ridge close to Abbey Stadium or the proposed housing area at Abbey Farm, off Tadpole Lane. They are close to where places are needed and away from other secondary schools.
Parent Victoria Keane from Haydon End said she is worried that there won’t be a local secondary school place for her son who is about to start Year 4. "The step from primary to secondary education is an exciting time for children but it’s a great worry if they have to travel outside the area to go to school. Parents can’t assume that it will alright when the time comes. If they want to ensure there are places locally they have to get involved with the bid."
David Gerrish from Redhouse said his two sons had to take a bus to school because Isambard had not yet been built but his third son was young enough to attend. "Like so many other families we were taken in by the utopian dreams sold to us by North Swindon house developers. The reality is that the facilities like a secondary school were not here when we needed them.
"We’re not directly effected by the lack of places in the next few years but sending children to school outside their community is not at all ideal. I feel I owe it to parents of younger children to get involved with the bid so that there is adequate local schooling available."
The meeting agreed that urgent action is needed to bring the community together. Justin Tomlinson MP said: "It was an encouraging meeting which highlighted the urgent need to alert parents of the issues they will soon be involved with. I and local councillors will work on a plan to raise awareness of the lack of places during the Autumn and to encourage parents to sign up for a free school for the purposes of the bid submission."
Should the bid be successful, the governors at Isambard have agreed that its facilities can be shared with staff and Year 7 children of a new school whilst it is being built and equipped. This will mean adjusting the school day so that school starts earlier for some children and ends later for others so that distinct classes can be run for both schools.
To find out more and to get involved mail Kevin Gray: email@example.com
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