PLANS for Winchester’s first free school have passed a major milestone.
Organisers won enough support from prospective parents to submit a bid for Government cash to start a free school for 60 reception pupils in September 2014.
Although the ‘New Winchester Academy’ has not yet secured a site, it has registered an interest in the new primary earmarked for the controversial giant housing estate at Barton Farm.
If the Department for Education gives the go-ahead, it could run the two-form primary instead of the county council as currently planned.
Either way, the new primary will be built with money from developer Cala Homes as a condition of planning consent for 2,000 new homes on the green field site.
Building work on the new school is due to start when the first 50 homes are built in early 2014.
Winchester could then host Hampshire’s first free primary school and the first county-run ‘all through’ primary and secondary school at The Westgate in Fulflood to meet a growing demand for places.
Winchester and Chandler’s Ford MP Steve Brine welcomed the move, saying: “The free school application is right to focus on Barton Farm because that’s where we need a new primary school.
“I hope they are working closely with Cala and above all, Hampshire County Council.
“The important thing about any free school bid is that it comes from, and is absolutely for, the community it will serve.”
As a free school, Winchester Academy would be state-funded but not under local authority control.
This means it can decide its own curriculum, length of school day, and admission criteria.
The Winchester free school plans to have a compulsory extended school day that runs from 8.30am to 4.30pm to provide extra-curricular activities for all pupils, including languages, sport, drama, music and dance at no cost to parents.
The school’s philosophy includes a strict “no tolerance” behaviour policy to ensure high standards of uniform, attendance and homework.
It plans a traditional model of education, focusing on basic skills in maths, reading and writing.
But it also promises a life skills programme to ensure pupils leave as “aspirational citizens of the future”.
However, the free school would follow Hampshire County Council’s admissions policy which is based on geographical catchment areas with those living closest to the school gate having priority.
Bournemouth-based Laura Dickson, an education consultant and former headteacher, is project coordinator for the new school.
She said: “We don’t want to step on the toes of any other schools and would work alongside and in partnership with them.”
If the Winchester Academy bid is accepted, organisers will be interviewed by government officials in March.
If it all works out, the free school will have 60 pupils in reception classes and grow to 420 students aged four to 11.
Mrs Dickson said about 40 prospective parents had already registered an interest in the reception places for September 2014.
Organisers have to show evidence of parental demand to win Government funding. The DfE is keen to start free schools where there is a shortage of school places.
However, Hampshire County Council has just approved plans to provide hundreds of new school places in the city at a cost of £10m.
In addition to the new two-form entry at The Westgate, it plans to expand St Peter’s Catholic Primary in Oliver’s Battery and Winnall Primary.
Free schools are the controversial brainchild of education secretary Michael Gove.
Twenty-four were opened in September 2011, another 55 in 2012, and 102 more will open this year.
Many are religious schools, including one where pupils practise transcendental meditation, but they have also included a specialist music primary, bilingual primary, and a “creative and unhurried” Steiner school.
Some have been over-subscribed, but many have opened with far fewer students than hoped.