Parents reveal ambitious plan for Portsmouth’s first free school

Members of the public at the Maren Free School information day. Picture: Emily Whiting
Members of the public at the Maren Free School information day. Picture: Emily Whiting
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A TEAM of parents is on a mission to change the education landscape of Portsmouth forever by introducing the city’s first free school.

The Maren Free School aims to be the first of its kind on the island under the government-backed initiative.

Its hope is to create a new education centre to take on pupils from four to 16, offering children a single school to stay from infancy to GCSE.

And the team behind the bid hope to submit their ambitious proposal to the government later this year, with a view to having the new site up and running by autumn 2019.

Mum-of-two Emily Whiting, of Southsea, is one of the parents involved in the idea.

She said: ‘Our vision is to create an innovative and outstanding centre of education for children aged four to 16 in an inclusive environment where children are empowered and inspired to reach their full academic, emotional and physical potential.’

No exact location has been decided yet, although the group said it is interested in two sites in the Milton area, near St James and the university’s Langstone campus.

Mrs Whiting said the free school would help plug the gap in secondary school places in the city.

‘Initially the focus was on early years, but we realised quickly that one of the city’s real issues was in capacity at secondary school age,’ she said.

‘This, combined with research into the historical performance of Portsmouth’s state education, led us to believe that focussing purely on early years was essentially “kicking the issue into the long grass”.’

The site would operate a ‘collapsing school’ method.

This would mean for a few days of the year, it would not operate normal lessons.

Instead, it would unite children across all year groups to tackle big projects within their house groups.

‘We want to instil the love of learning into the children,’ added Mrs Whiting.

‘Alongside being with the family, being in school is where children spend a majority of their time.

‘So it is incredibly important that in that space you give the children the best opportunity to grow as an individual’

After the plan is submitted, there will be a panel interview process.

If successful the school will move into the pre-opening phase, with the committee working alongside the Education Funding Agency to secure a site and hire staff.

Once open, pupils will be able to enrol in either reception, Year 4 or Year 7.

The bid has been welcomed by Portsmouth’s education boss, Councillor Neill Young.

He said: ‘We’re happy to meet with groups interested in setting up a free school and listening to their proposals.

‘There are limitations in the city where a new school could be accommodated, or buildings suitable for conversion, so these considerations need to be explored.

‘We also want to make sure school places are created to tackle demand, which is why we’ve expanded existing schools by an additional 1,600 places across the city.’