By Linda Tanner, Education Correspondent
Bristol Free School is due to open in September, after a long campaign by parents in the north west of the city.
The school, which will based in Brentry at first, will be the largest of the new- style free schools in the country and the first in the region.
Free schools are a key policy of the coalition Government. They are set up in response to parental demand and are run independently of local authorities, with funding directly from Whitehall.
More than 100 11-year-olds have already signed up to start at the school and its leaders believe they will fill all 150 places in Year 7.
Bristol Free School will open in former Government offices in Burghill Road, Brentry, and will eventually move to the old St Ursula’s School buildings in Brecon Road, Westbury-on-Trym.
Bristol Free School Trust chairman Blair King said: “This is a very happy day for parents in North West Bristol, because the dream of a secondary school in our community is now a reality. This final approval comes at the end of a fast moving couple of weeks for us. We have held four prospective parents’ evenings and our office has been fielding a stream of inquiries about places for this year and for next.
“Over two thirds of our places are taken for Year 7 in September 2011 so far and we expect to be full. The level of interest for next year among Year 5 parents has been fantastic.”
Mr King said that during the next week, the school’s head teacher, Richard Clutterbuck, would be working with the BFS Trust to observe, interview and appoint teaching staff.
Mr Clutterbuck said: “The number and quality of applicants for these posts was very impressive. We shortlisted from more than 200 applicants and many of those were from Bristol. I intend to appoint those who not only teach well but share my excitement about creating a wonderful new school from scratch.”
Bristol Free School is continuing to work with the Department for Education, Bristol City Council and Oasis Community Learning on arrangements for the teaching of the secondary-aged pupils at the independent Oasis School Westbury after it closes on the St Ursula’s site in the summer.
Meanwhile, Mr Gove has also given the go-ahead for a primary academy to be run by the education provider E-ACT, to open at the former St Ursula’s site.
This will offer 60 reception class places as well as taking in the young Oasis School Westbury pupils.
The primary academy will launch in the St Ursula’s buildings and eventually move to new buildings in the nine-acre grounds.
Bristol North West Conservative MP Charlotte Leslie welcomed “a real victory for parent power”.
She said: “Local people have finally achieved what the BS9 community has campaigned for, for decades; a local secondary school they can call their own. Well done to all involved.”
“Parents and children living in Westbury-on-Trym, Stoke Bishop and Henleaze have never had a genuinely local secondary school to call their own. At long last this omission looks set to be rectified.”
Councillor Peter Hammond, leader of the city’s Labour group, said concerns remained about the possible impact of the free school on other secondary schools in the neighbourhood.
Nina Franklin, president of the National Union of Teachers, said: “We are disgusted at Michael Gove’s lack of regard for education in Bristol and in particular for the local community schools, which will suffer because the Government has agreed to the wishes of a group of middle class parents who won’t accept that their children would be perfectly well served at Bristol community schools.”