West London Free School Heading for H&F?

Council "actively helping " search for site in borough

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West London Free School looks almost certain to be based within Hammersmith and Fulham, after the council announced it is backing the school and "actively helping in the search for a suitable site in the borough."

The school, which is due to launch in September 2011 and has a group of vocal supporters led by writer Toby Young, has so far refused to confirm its proposed location.

However, speculation has been growing that the most likely site is Hammersmith's Palingswick House, currently housing 23 charities, which is one of nine buildings the council wants to sell to help pay off its debts.

Leader of the Council, Cllr Stephen Greenhalgh says: "We will do everything we can to support parents wanting to set up free schools. The West London Free School would be very welcome in H&F.

" It will extend the choices open to local families, help us cater for the growing local population and support our aspiration to encourage more families to choose local state schools rather than going private."

The school is expected to launch next September with 120 pupils in Year 7. It plans to specialise in music and children will be expected to study Latin at least until the age of 14 and to sit at least eight academic GCSEs or IGCSEs. Competitive sport will be a big part of school life.

Toby Young says: " We believe the West London School will prove popular with both parents and children in Hammersmith & Fulham, offering a choice that many of them don’t have at present.

" In addition to academic rigour, the school will be characterised by high expectations, strong discipline and a competitive atmosphere."

But not everyone agrees. Christine Blower, General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers, and former teacher at St Edmunds School in Fulham, said: "Groups setting up their own schools irrespective of local planning needs would be a retrograde step that will lead to planning gridlock and social division."

Local people responding on the council website were also sceptical about the school, with comments ranging from "pie in the sky" to "nonsensical profligacy" and claims that opposition to free schools is being ignored.

The West London Free School was one of three local schools given the go ahead by the Coalition Government in September.

Announcing the names of the first batch of 16 schools across the country, Education Secretary Michael Gove said the schools, which are state funded but outside of local authority control, had all been driven by demand from local people.

The other two free schools are both in Shepherd's Bush. They are Ark Conway primary in White City and the Rivendale Free School, both catering for for primary age children.

ARK Academies, which already runs Burlington Danes Academy in Du Cane Road, is working with the North Hammersmith Parent Group to set up the Ark Conway Primary Academy on the former Wormholt library site in White City.

Rivendale Free School would be in Shepherd's Bush, but a suitable site has yet to be found. It would have no religious ethos and the group behind it hope that it will offer an alternative to the area's faith schools for children of non-faith or multi-faith backgrounds.

In addition to these three free school proposals, the council says a parents' group has also approached the council and the London Diocesan Board to discuss the possibility of setting up a Church of England boys' secondary school. They intend to seek the views of local parents in order to gauge the level of interest in the proposal.

The West London Free School is also sending out a consulation document to local parents, who can also read and respond it it on its website

November 15, 2010