'Why I want a free school'

26th September 2014 at 10:27


Frances Wadsworth, principal of Croydon College, writes:


The deadline is looming, and our bid, with so many hopes for educational excellence, progression and employability for young people wrapped up in it, will be sent to the Department for Education (DfE) soon.  It’s an exciting prospect, a new school, an extension of our reach in inspiring and realizing achievement in Croydon’s young people. Our bid is for an 11-18 academy, which will be a free school.


Since 2011, three hundred free schools have opened or have been approved to open, making-up around one per cent of English schools today. Our proposed sponsorship of a school isn’t a new phenomenon for the FE sector, there are others, such as those sponsored by Hadlow College, Cornwall College and Staffordshire College and we will be one of three colleges hoping to open a Free School in 2016, if approved.


There has been some controversy surrounding free schools , much arising from the different motivations and types of sponsor.  A factor is that when schools become academies or free schools they become semi-independent and outside of local authority control. This has concerned some, particularly where sponsors appear to lack experience of education.


Whether academies are a good thing or not, and whether they are free schools, is, however the wrong debate. It is what and how children are being taught in schools that is important, with what support and quality of teaching, rather than where it is being taught.  The emphasis has to be on great teaching and committed teachers that stretch, challenge and inspire children. A good college as a school’s sponsor can clearly bring experience and expertise, a significant USP.


Croydon has a startling need for schools, both primary and secondary. The places’ deficit is so great, that it is reported that by 2018 Croydon faces a massive 43 per cent shortfall.


Croydon it seems, is London’s ‘next big thing.’ Property prices, compared with other London boroughs are still relatively reasonable, but with excellent transport links and a £1bn regeneration underway, including a new Westfield shopping centre and stylish high-rise living, prices are shooting skywards as Croydon’s popularity soars as a place to live. There is a boom in development.


The availability of local schools for local children is focusing minds. Croydon’s local MPs (Conservative and Labour) are exercised and are campaigning to help tackle the problem; academy chains are expanding, bulge classes are becoming the norm because the population is projected to grow at an unprecedented rate.  I am clear that as a major provider of education within Croydon we can and should play our part.


Croydon College is a significant educational provider in the Borough with wide-ranging  teaching expertise.  The College, offering courses right up to Master’s level, with degrees awarded by the prestigious Russell group Sussex University, has built in opportunities for inspiration, employability and progression. Colleges are independent, so we have considerable experience of operating outside local authority control– with finance, curriculum, HR, governance and careers’ expertise- and we keep a tight control over the quality of teaching and student experience. We’re rated ‘good with Outstanding features’ by Ofsted, been awarded the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Services (the only college to ever have achieved this) and praised by the QAA for our ability to get our higher education graduates into jobs.


With this richness of experience, expertise and the quality of provision we are confident that we will create a school that, although it will stand entirely in its own right, will provide an exceptional learning experience that can draw upon the college’s expertise and resources.


We have been pleased with initial reactions from local parents. Employers have also come forward with support, including Gatwick Airport and the NHS Trust.


We need local, inclusive, high-quality schools for local children. We are in a position to help and support hundreds of young people to get a great education – so, that’s what we’re going to try to do.


This is our one and only attempt to secure this much-needed secondary provision right in the heart of Croydon on our campus, before the general election in May 2015.


If we are successful in our bid, New Croydon Academy (NCA) will be a 6FE school, a separate institution to Croydon College, but it will have the same, shared goals of aspiration and excellence.


My hopes are that NCA will be a standalone, first-choice school, delivering academic rigour in a culture of high expectation, great leadership and inspiring teachers. This is our chance to make a positive difference, and to provide a fantastic opportunity for our young people, our community and for generations.


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