By Linda Tanner, Education Correspondent
BRISTOL Free School is considering making Brentry its permanent base rather than moving to the former St Ursula’s site in Westbury-on-Trym.
The change is prompted by the Department for Education, which says the costs of the old private school building would be significantly higher than those for the school’s temporary base in former Government offices.
The trust setting up England’s largest free school – which is due to open in September – is asking parents for their views about the school’s home.
It acknowledges that the temporary site in Burghill Road is not at the heart of the area it wishes to serve and it stresses that the free school catchment area would remain based on those living nearest to the former St Ursula’s in Brecon Road.
In a letter to parents and supporters, trust chairman Blair King said the free school would be restricted by sharing the nine-acre site with the new primary academy, also due to open in September. This would make Bristol Free School building works more expensive and raise the risk of difficulties with planning permission or highways approval.
“Brecon Road is still our favoured location, because it is central to the area in which there are five (and soon to be six) primary schools and no secondary school. However, once the primary academy is open, we understand it may be impossible for us to have a sixth form on site,” he said.
“The Burghill Road site is not centrally located within the community it will serve, but the site itself is well suited to a secondary school, with good vehicular and pedestrian access; a secure and quiet environment; and enough space for new buildings, sports facilities and a sixth form block.
“We are working with government officials at the Department for Education (DfE) to pursue both these options – but on the basis of current information, the DfE’s preference is for the Burghill Road site to be the Bristol Free School’s permanent home.”
Parents and residents have until August 4 to respond to the consultation on the free school’s website.
Work got under way at the former Defra offices site this week following the granting of planning permission for their temporary use as a secondary school.
Bristol Free School, which is awaiting formal approval from Education Secretary Michael Gove, has space for up to 150 11-year-olds in its first year. Its aim is for the school to grow to a 750-place secondary and it is expected to seek permission to open a sixth form.
About two-thirds of its places are filled and head teacher Richard Clutterbuck said parents were still signing up their children.
“I imagine that a number of parents may have hesitated about applying for places before this site was confirmed. I will be giving appointments for these parents and pupils throughout this last week of term and during the holidays.”
Mr Clutterbuck said the start of work on site was a milestone.
“We have a very busy summer ahead, with ICT and other equipment arriving on site; and staff setting up their departments and classrooms during August. We’re all very excited and keen to work with our first Year 7s – every one of whom behaved beautifully and worked hard at our induction events.”
Bristol Free School Trust has been formed by parents from north west Bristol and their education partner Russell Education Trust to run the new school.
Both the Burghill Road site and the Brecon Road site are owned by Bristol City Council. The council bought the former St Ursula’s for £2 million last summer to help meet the need for primary places and the St Ursula’s E-Act Academy, which is also awaiting the final go-ahead from Mr Gove, is due to open with 60 reception-class children plus older primary pupils from the ex-independent school.