Isambard School headteacher Rachael Mattey is calling a public meeting in August to discuss the impending crisis in secondary school places in Swindon – particularly the northern sector – and to consider the option of establishing a free school with the support of Isambard.
A paper outlining a number of possible solutions to the problem of secondary provision across the town was presented to Swindon Council cabinet in June.
However Ms Mattey believes the report does not go far enough, nor does it address the urgency of the issue for areas such as Groundwell East, St Andrews Ridge, Abbey Meads or Priory Vale.
Commenting on the options outlined by the council she said: “The decision is between building new schools, expanding existing ones or bussing children around the town to fill spare places.
“Based on existing figures secondary school places in North Swindon are going to be in desperate need as soon as 2015. We ought to be looking to access free school funding right now to meet it.”
Pointing out a couple of flaws in the current options facing the council Ms Mattey said: “None of the options are workable if all secondary schools in Swindon achieve academy status, as is likely to be the case by the end of this year – because the council will no longer have control. Also, the current options have been based on the existing population, before there’s been a brick laid at Tadpole Farm.”
Parent-led free-schools are an innovation of the coalition government, and the UK will see a further 102 schools of this type open in 2014.
Following the experience of establishing Isambard as a brand new school in 2007 Ms Mattey believes that a free school would be a sensible solution for North Swindon.
She said: “We want to position the idea as a community project with the potential to be part of an umbrella trust with Isambard, and possibilities for a shared sixth form. It is important that parents feel they get the school they want for their children. A working party of interested parents keen to push the idea forward would be ideal.”
Parents are invited to discuss the free school idea at a public meeting Thursday 15 August, 6.30pm, in the main hall at Isambard School.
Chair of governors Kevin Gray explained that the meeting is the next step in a campaign to meet the future needs of North Swindon which was started some months ago with a series of publicised meetings at Isambard to which members of the community and local councillors were invited.
It was followed by a series of meetings with parents of primary school children in an number of primary schools in the community. Click to see publicity on Swindonlink.com
The next stage is to bring all this back to a single point of action and to determine once and for all whether there is a will in the community to create a Free School bid.
What will happen on the 15th?
1. A catch up for those people who have not been involved before to provide the bare facts of the issue and clarify why it is so important to act now
2. A definition of next steps and timelines required to launch a Free bid
3. A statement on what a Free bid may consist of, what options might be put forward as part of that bid
4. A request for help in formulating the bid and pushing towards a new school
5. A statement on what might happen should a free school bid not be launched
6. An opportunity for questions to be answered where these questions focus on the future, the nature of Free school bids and the possible effect on the local community.