Plans for new free school put on ice for consultation

Organiser Geoff Walls addresses a group of local parents and teachers at Whiteley Community Centre about plans to build a new free school in Whiteley.    Picture Ian Hargreaves  (111694-2)
Organiser Geoff Walls addresses a group of local parents and teachers at Whiteley Community Centre about plans to build a new free school in Whiteley. Picture Ian Hargreaves (111694-2)

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CONTROVERSIAL plans for new school in Whiteley which has attracted major opposition from neighbouring headteachers have been shelved for a year.

Geoff Walls, co-director of the Whiteley Academy Group behind proposals to build a free school for four to 16-year-olds, had originally hoped to open for business in 2012.

But now he says he is extending the consultation period with a view to opening the state-funded independent school in September 2013.

The heads of Henry Cort Community College, Brookfield Community, Neville Lovett, Crofton, Cams Hill and Portchester schools as well as the vice-principal of Gosport College, have written to Fareham MP Mark Hoban outlining their concerns about the free school.

They argue there is a surplus of ‘good’ secondary places – and that the free school will draw pupils away and deplete them of vital funding and resources.

They also say the proposed site in the Solent Business Park will not be able to house adequate facilities, and that it is too far away from major housing developments planned for north Whiteley.

However Mr Walls insisted he would forge ahead with plans for the school if feedback from the community showed there was a demand.

He said: ‘We need a few extra months to continue to listen to what people have to say. Clearly there is a major demand for primary school places in the area and from what we’ve heard parents also want more choice with secondary school provision.

‘The political will is there, and we’ve had a lot of interest from local businesses and even one retired headteacher who want to help.

‘I hope with more discussion and debate the heads will have time to reflect, and the local education authority will give us their support.

‘They see a new school with a catchment area as competition, but I think competition is healthy.’

Mr Hoban said: ‘I support for the idea of a free school and I think there is a concern about secondary places in the area. Ultimately, it’s up to parents to choose what school they want for their children.’

Phil Munday, of Henry Cort, whose school is undersubscribed, said: ‘Our schools are working collaboratively to support all young people in our community. If you start tearing up the map then everyone has to reposition themselves. I hope the plan for the secondary part of the free school does not go ahead.’