Gove OKs not one but three Hackney free schools

"Silicon Roundabout" Shoreditch Lon 2012

HACKNEY is to get not one but three free schools. They will be based on a concept promoted by Education Secretary Michael Gove under which schools are State funded but set up and run by parents, teachers or charities rather than councils or, as in Hackney, the Learning Trust.

The three will be:

* Hackney New School (HNS), the secondary proposed by a group of Hackney professionals and written about by this site in January;

* Stem Academy, 16 to 19-year-olds. To open in Shoreditch;

* The Olive, a faith school in Hackney.

Phillippa De’Ath, HNS community engagement director, told Loving Dalston: “We would like to say we are delighted to have progressed to the pre-opening phase and are working towards opening Hackney New School in 2013. We would have done this only with the support of over 700 parents who would like to send their children to this free, mixed-ability, non-denominational music secondary school.

“The school will be open to everyone, and has been shaped with input from children, parents and many other local representatives, including primary school head teachers and community leaders. We will start with Year 7.”

The Olive School, organised by the Tauheedul Free Schools’ Trust, aims to offer 630 places for the term starting in September next year 2013. Though Muslim, the school will “welcome applications from families of all faiths and none”, and will promote “community cohesion and traditional British values” (whatever they are). Tauheedul says that more than 1,000 parents have indicated they like the idea of the Olive School.

Linda Thompson, director of school improvement for Tauheedul Free Schools’ Trust, said it would be“a progressive faith school”. She said: “The Olive School’s faith ethos will meana commitment to inclusion, collaboration and social cohesion, within a culture of respect. Only valid scientific theories will be taught.  The school will not be teaching either creationism or intelligent design and only valid scientific theories will be taught.

“At the heart of the Tauheedul vision is the determination to impact positively on young lives by providing high academic standards and a programme of personal development to nurture qualities such as leadership and enterprise.”

The Olive School would be a mixed primary school with high-quality facilities. Consultations were taking place with local communities to identify an appropriate location.

One parent, Thamina Haidar, said: “The news is absolutely brilliant. I and many other parents in the area have been pushing for just such a school for a good while and now, with the partnership we’ve formed with Tauheedul, we are all confident we will have a school to be proud of. We all obviously have high aspirations for our children but in this area are often faced with a variety of barriers and obstacles.

“It’s wonderful that the Government has given the go-ahead for the Olive School, which will remove a lot of those barriers.”

The Stem Academy says on its website that it will be located on Silicon Roundabout (pictured). The academy is being set up by a not-for-profit company, the Skills and Development Agency (S and DA), founded in 2001.

Dennis Quilter, of S and DA, told Loving Dalston: “We haven’t yet settled on specific premises — it’s difficult to do that when it was only last week that we were approved by the Secretary of State.

“We want to be in the Silicon Roundabout area, teaching science, maths, engineering… technical subjects… and not necessarily to the brightest children, either. We’re out to operate for the benefit of the community.”

S and DA chief executive officer Virginie Ramond added: “We are of course thrilled with the news. It culminates an eight-month bid process,  opens up a lot of opportunities for S and DA,  and advances our vision of enhancing educational prospects for students from Hackney and the wider London area.”

HNS is unable to reveal its location yet. De’Ath said: “We are in the process of confirming the site, based on the area of greatest need —ie; where the existing secondary-place provision is low — and availability of buildings.”

Hackney South and Shoreditch MP Meg Hillier said she was worried that not all the proposed schools had secured premises.  “It seems incredible,” she added,  “that  public money has already been spent on the competition for funding and there is not even a firm plan of where to put schools.

“Hackney has worked so hard to build great new schools and improve crumbling buildings. I don’t want any Hackney child to be in a poor-quality or not-for-purpose building.

“Michael Gove refused to reveal the finances of the bidding schools. But this is taxpayers’ money and no school, be it free, academy or local authority, should have a problem revealing how much taxpayers’ money they will be spending.”

Tricia Okoruwa, deputy director of the Learning Trust, which was appointed several years ago to take over Hackney schools after bad school-inspection ratings, told Loving Dalston that a key trust objective had always been to ensure the best possible educational opportunities, cutting-edge facilities and resources for all Hackney students.

She said: “We welcome all new strategies that are designed to improve education within the borough and continue with our aims for improvement within existing schools. All three free schools have contacted the Learning Trust and we look forward to working in partnerships with them.”

Hamish Scott

* Emboldened underscored words in most cases indicate a hyperlink. If a link does not work, it is probably because the site to which the URL refers has not been maintained.

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