Natalie Evans, director of the New Schools Network, writes:
With less than a week until parents anxiously open their post on national offer day and find out which secondary school their son or daughter has been allocated, a new trend is emerging that could help alleviate some of this stress.
The rise of all-through schools, which educate from age 5 through to 16 or 18, in some cases even offering nursery provision as well, is set to provide a step-change for pupils and their parents.
There are only 20 all-through schools in the entire maintained sector, as well as 54 all-through academies, but it has taken just four years to get to a point where there are now 43 all-through free schools either open or approved to open. Overall, this represents around 15 per cent of free schools, with demand pushing increasing numbers of applications for all-through schools every year.
Parents want continuity and consistency and a way to help bridge the often challenging transition from primary to secondary school. As well as navigating the jump from Year 6 to Year 7, some of these new all-through schools are also directly addressing parental concerns that their child may be overwhelmed moving from a small, local primary to a large secondary in the nearest town.
Heyford Park in Oxfordshire, for instance, is a new free school that will have a two-form entry from reception all the way through to Year 13. This school is a direct response to local parents wanting an alternative to the combination of a small village primary followed by the huge secondary that previously existed for their children. Set up on an old RAF base, Heyford Park is proving hugely popular locally and is set to be oversubscribed for its 2014 intakes.
By contrast, ARK John Keats Academy, another all-through free school based in Enfield, an area of London in desperate need of new places, will cater for 180 students in each year at secondary level. And in north-west London, the West Hampstead International School, who are putting in their application to the DfE this spring, will cater for 60 in each year group from reception to Year 6, rising to 160 per year from Year 7 to Year 13.
The other emerging trend is the evolution of de facto ‘all-throughs’, as good schools – whether free schools, academies or maintained – take the chance offered by the free-school programme to make their style and approach to education available more widely through the phases. While schools in the same family cannot guarantee admission, the chance of continuity for at least some students promises to reduce the disruption of transition.
This is happening in both directions. Canary Wharf College, an outstanding primary free school in Tower Hamlets is planning to open a secondary while in Plymouth, the secondary Marine Academy is expanding is specialist ‘marine’ offer with a primary free school.
It’s not just parents and pupils who benefit from this approach. From a teacher’s perspective, there is more control on the various components that make for a successful school; more opportunities to experience teaching across different age groups and the chance to offer specialist teaching from an earlier age.
All-through schools are another example of a feature that was not explicitly planned for or indeed necessarily anticipated as part of the free schools programme. Yet, like all free schools, their growth is a direct response to what parents, teachers and communities believe is needed and their fundamental objective is to raise standards. Their influence looks set to grow more in the years to come. It will be fascinating to see how mainstream these schools become and what impact they have on the system as a whole.