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First Bexley free school aims to push the boundaries

PUBLISHED: 15:00 14 February 2013

The Hemming family: parents Melissa and Adam and children Philippa and Austen

The Hemming family: parents Melissa and Adam and children Philippa and Austen

Archant

It was a dire shortage of primary school places which made a group of parents set up Bexley's first free school - but as the plans grew, so did their ambitions.

Hope school

l to r Victoria Hemmings (yellow shirt) with the Foreman family Melissa,Adam,Philippa and AustenHope school l to r Victoria Hemmings (yellow shirt) with the Foreman family Melissa,Adam,Philippa and Austen

Hope Community School in Rectory Lane, Sidcup, will open in September, operating under the controversial free schools scheme promoted by the government.

Free schools are funded by Whitehall but are independent. They can set their own curriculum so long as it is “balanced and broadly-based” and employ whoever they like – they don’t even have to be qualified teachers.

This scope may worry some parents but Mel Foreman was hooked as soon as she heard about the project and hopes to send her three-year-old twins Austen and Phillipa to the reception class this year.

“It’s really impressive,” she says. “Next year’s class will be pioneers in Bexley. I was keen on the school when I first heard about it. I’ve been involved in the campaigning for a few months to try to drum up interest among other parents.

L to R Victoria Hemmings from organising team with the Foreman family parents Melissa and Adam and twins Philippa and AustenL to R Victoria Hemmings from organising team with the Foreman family parents Melissa and Adam and twins Philippa and Austen

“I’m originally from California and the free-spirited ideal of setting your own curriculum is enticing.”

The plans have been two years in the making after the organising team of 12 was dismayed by the lack of primary school spaces in the borough.

Free schools are an extension of the Academies Act, which hands over responsibility for education to parents, businesses or community groups.

The New Generation Schools Trust, which is behind the project, was established in 2011 and has links with local businesses who they say will give the children an interactive education.

Free school factfile

Free schools are funded by taxpayers, academically non-selective and free from local authority control.

They were introduced by the coalition government following the 2010 General Election, modelled on the charter school movement in Sweden and America.

They are an extension of the academies programme and the first 24 free schools opened in autumn 2011.

Hope Community School will be the first free school to open in Bexley borough.

While free schools do not have to follow the national curriculum, they do have to deliver a balanced and broad programme of study while complying with key requirements like sitting Key Stage 2 and Key Stage 3 tests.

They are inspected by school watchdog Ofsted.

About 25 pupils will join in September with the same number joining for the six years which follow until it is at its projected full capacity of 175 in 2019.

Mary Rouse has been the project manager since the school was given the go-ahead and was part of the team behind the successful planning application, which was approved last July.

She said: “I’m a mum myself and I know lots of local children aren’t being given spaces at schools because they’re oversubscribed.

“I hope it will help residents realise they do have options for their children. A lot of people won’t know about the school so we’ve been trying to get the word out there.”

The current deputy head of Birkbeck Primary in Sidcup, Lisa Morris, has been appointed at the helm.

She said: “I want to help build not just the school, but its contribution and involvement in the community.”

The plan is to link up with local businesses such as Ruxley Garden Centre who will teach children about the importance of growing vegetables and eating healthily.

Other ideas include teaching them about the importance of business at the local BMW dealership and fitness with David Lloyd Leisure Centre in Rectory Lane.

The overarching idea is to provide an interactive, engaging and unique project-based curriculum.

Mary, who lives in Sidcup, said: “We’re doing this to give the community of Cray Meadows an accessible school that they can be proud of.”

Hope Community School is accepting applications for September until the intake of 25 is full. Applications can be made directly to the school.

For more information visit hopecommunityschool.org or call 020 8309 6056.

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