New schools boost choice
Wednesday February 9, 2011
New school places are hugely over-subscribed in Hammersmith and Fulham with 1,140 children applying for 420 new places in two free schools and a new academy.
Two free schools are pushing ahead with plans to open in September in the borough. Ark Conway primary school in Shepherds Bush has received 63 applications for its 60 places, while the West London Free School has received 445 applications for its 120 places.
In addition to the free schools, a brand new academy opens its doors this September. Construction of the Hammersmith Academy on Goldhawk Road is on schedule to be completed in June, with 120 new pupils starting in year 7 and another 120 in year 12. It is also heavily over-subscribed, with 632 parents applying for its 240 places.
Local schools for local families
Hammersmith & Fulham has one of the highest proportions in the country of local children going to schools outside the borough or to schools in the independent sector. In 2006, only 38% of local children went to local state schools, leading H&F Council to launch its Schools of Choice programme in 2008 to provide more of the kinds of places parents want to choose for their children.
Forty four per cent of year 7 children living in the borough now go to local state schools and 7 out of the 8 local state secondaries are oversubscribed.
With the new choices available, 57% of children due to start school in 2011 have now chosen a local state secondary school as their first preference.
“We have some hugely successful and popular secondary schools in the borough, but not enough places,” says Cabinet Member for Children’s Services, Cllr Helen Binmore. “An unacceptably large number of families do not get into to their schools of choice, so we need more top quality places. Parents are telling us loud and clear that they want the free school and the new academy and we are backing them all the way.
“Suggestions that any of the new schools is a threat to existing schools in the borough just do not stand up to scrutiny and our existing secondary heads will continue to have our full support for the quality work they do.”
The West London Free School has come under some criticism that it will exclude local people from less affluent backgrounds, a claim it strongly refutes. "Initial indications are that our applications are coming from all parts of the local community, including many from local estates and from a large range of ethnic backgrounds," says WLFS sponsor Toby Young. "The claim that the academically rigorous, classical education we're offering will only appeal to white, middle class families is not only patronising, it has been disproved by the hard evidence of the applications we have been getting."
Helping free schools find sites
ARK Conway primary school is due to open in The Curve W12 and is sponsored by ARK Schools, who have a strong track-record in education and run the successful Burlington Danes Academy, a secondary school in nearby Du Cane Road.
West London Free School is planned for central Hammersmith with Palingswick House as its favoured site.
Palingswick House is one of a number of sites H&F Council has decided to sell in order to pay off its historic £133 million debt. Council Leader, Cllr Stephen Greenhalgh has confirmed that the council would look favourably on a sale of the site to the Free school.
Ark Conway’s business case has been approved by the government, the final approval needed to open in September, and the West London Free School anticipate theirs will follow suit shortly.