Free School – Not Needed Here?

Clovelly Primary school which closed in 2012 due to low pupil numbers

Clovelly Primary school which closed in 2012 due to low pupil numbers

As the Route 39 Free School announced its site will be at isolated Bucks Cross in North Devon, Dave Fitzsimmons, Head of Holsworthy  Community College, spoke on Radio Devon yesterday morning (go to 1  hr 19 mins in)  to explain the negative impact the new school will have on existing schools in the area, not least in affecting funding for current secondary  schools.

Dave Fitzsimmons explained that a fifth secondary school is not needed in an area where none of the existing schools are running at full pupil capacity. He expressed the view that the school would de-stabilise provision in the area, citing that his own school’s intake will reduce to 122 from 130 for year 7 in 2013, because of the free school. This will mean 4 form rather than 5 form entry, thus larger classes, and potentially, a teacher redundancy.

Mr Fitzsimmons added that he cannot understand why permission was granted by central Government for this school, when funding is needed for current pupils in existing schools, and there is no pupil population bulge. He felt a new school would be understandable if existing local schools were bursting at the seams, but none are.

He expressed particular concern about spending going to renting premises for 2013 free school entry (currently standing at 30 something pupils) rather than education. The free school intends to rent from a businessman (temporary premises will be sited at The Milky Way tourist attraction, perhaps not the best detraction from national comments about ‘theme park’ free schools) while the permanent school will eventually be sited at Steart Farm caravan park out past Bucks Mills en route to The Hoops Inn. Plans to purchase the 10 acre site are under way. Fewer tourists will thus be coming in to the area (Torridge is one of the poorest in the country) as a result, which may be a concern also to local businesses.

The school is also to be sited within the North Devon coastal AONB, which appears, so far, to have raised no objection to the plan. Meanwhile, the North Devon & Torridge Draft Local Plan does not seem to indicate a major building programme around this area of North Devon, probably for the very reason that public transport is a nightmare and any such development would be ‘unsustainable’ in nature in terms of local infrastructure .

Certainly, it is questionable why a school is needed in the middle of nowhere. There are no main centres of population anywhere near the proposed site, and the concept of walking to school will be at best risky (I wouldn’t wish to walk the A39) so most pupils will need to be transported in. No walk to school there, it seems.

The school, which claims to offer small scale, rural education (700 pupils, the ultimate aim, is not actually that small) may also impact upon Hartland’s own Small School which really does offer ‘human scale’ education. The ‘human scale’ free school at Swanage, for example, aims to have only 420 pupils.

Meanwhile, the Free School’s public consultation has started so you can have your say here whatever your feelings about it.


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