We may be starting to see a few cracks appearing in the shiny new free school model. The proposers of the Rivendale Free School, in West London, have announced that they are withdrawing their bid for a local health centre which they had planned to convert to a new school by September. The reasons for this are two fold - the site was not suitable and not available in time to rush through an autumn opening. But more importantly large numbers of local parents protested about a new school moving into an area where they felt there were already enough places in good schools which might be threatened by surplus, unecessary provision. Several parents have already made their views known here
I suspect we will see more stories like this. Finding and converting new sites will be difficult , especially in urban areas, when it may just be simpler to expand existing schools. And, as we know, in spite of the endless criticism we see of local schools in the media, many parents are happy with what they have already got and are prepared to fight to protect it. Local Hammersmith and Fulham MP Andy Slaughter said yesterday that this experience points to the need for more consultation and planning when new schools come into being. Free schools tend to pop up rapidly and often after little consultation with local people - in the case of Rivendale the consultation was still taking place while the proposers were seeking applicants.
Free schools are 'driven by politicians seeking soundbites and lack authenticity' said Mr Slaughter. 'Schools should fit into their communities and be built to last. '
Rivendale would have been the third free school to have been pushed through this year in Hammersmith and Fulham, a flagship Tory authority. One of the others is a primary academy that has had only 63 applicants for 60 places this year and the issues surrounding the West London Free School have been well aired on this site.