Will a fresh approach equal success at new academy?

Teachers and parents are expressing confidence in the free school system as the first facility of its kind opens its doors in Newcastle.

Almost 30 children are beginning their first ever year of education at West Newcastle Academy‘s temporary site at Benwell Nature Reserve.

The school will focus on practical learning and outdoor play, and being a free school, it does not have to conform to the National Curriculum like other Government-run facilities.

Headteacher Susan Percy, previously headteacher of Escots Primary School in West Sussex, said: “It has been a journey, so far, to get to this point. It’s been a lot of hard work, but we’ve still got a lot more to do.

“We have had an incredible amount of support from governors, the charity and parents, and we’ve been working closely with headteachers from other local schools to get this right.

“We have a lot of different types of schools in Newcastle and now having a free school as well creates a lot of difference and teachers from all the different types of schools can learn from each other.”

In the North East, free schools have also been openened in Durham, Sunderland, Darlington and Cramlington, adding to the total of 93 free schools that have been launched around the country during September 2013.

The new system is still a concern for General Secretary of the National Union of Teacher Christine Blower, who said: “Free schools are an entirely unnecessary expense.

“At a time when there is a chronic shortage of school places around parts of the country, in particular at primary level, many are being opened where there is already a surplus of school places. This is a clear dereliction of duty by Government.

“State education needs to be coherently planned and organised. This ad hoc approach to education is causing genuine problems for ensuring that children and young people are given the education they deserve.

“Despite the claims, there is no evidence to show that they raise educational standards, in the first tranche of free schools to be inspected by Ofsted a quarter were judged to ‘require improvement’ or in one case, to be inadequate.

“It is difficult to see the logic of throwing yet more money at a system which clearly does not provide a magic solution to educational standards.  The Government needs to stop this deception and focus on an education system which provides for all not the few.”

But North East Conservative MEP Martin Callanan, who has supported the West Newcastle Academy from the planning phases, said: “It’s time for something new. It’s time for noew provisions and new choices for parents if they want to take them.

“If education here was excellent the critics might have a point, but it isn’t. Newcatsle has been botto of the league tables for far too long and it’s time to do something about it and shake up the system.”

Subject to planning consent, a new multi-million pound school will be built nearby in 2014 with a new reception intake each September until 2019.

A second free school, Discovery School, which is an industry-driven technical school for 14 to 19-year-olds, is due to open in 2014.