By Linda Tanner, Education Correspondent / firstname.lastname@example.org
England’s biggest free school will open in north west Bristol next month.
On Friday Education Secretary Michael Gove signed a funding agreement with the Bristol Free School Trust for the permanent establishment of the new secondary school.
It will be able to take in up to 150 students each year and will admit its first 11-year-old pupils on September 5.
The school will start its life in former Government offices in Burghill Road, Brentry.
The intention is to move to the former St Ursula’s School building in Brecon Road, Westbury-on-Trym, once planning permission and other issues have been resolved.
The funding agreement is for a school for 11- to 16-year-olds but the free school trust has announced it wants to apply at the earliest opportunity to open a sixth form.
The aim would be to have a split-site school, with an exams centre including a sixth form at Burghill Road and the lower school on the St Ursula’s site.
Free schools are a new type of school favoured by the Coalition Government. Like academies, they receive their funding directly from Whitehall and have flexibility over what they teach.
They are described on the Department for Education as “all-ability state-funded schools set up in response to what local people say they want and need in order to improve education for children in their community”.
Bristol Free School meets this description, having been brought about following many years of campaigning by families in Henleaze, Stoke Bishop and Westbury-on-Trym.
After the General Election, the pressure group Parents Voice combined with partner the Russell Education Trust to form the free school trust.
The chairman of the school’s governors, Blair King, said last night: “This is a wonderful day for parents of north west Bristol and for all those who have worked tirelessly to establish a much-needed secondary school in our community.
“The last few weeks have been very exciting; builders and ICT experts are just putting the finishing touches to our buildings and infrastructure at our Burghill Road site.”
Last month, Mr King wrote to parents telling them that the Department for Education would prefer the school’s permanent site to be at Burghill Road for cost reasons.
But many parents responded to the free school’s pre-opening consultation saying that they wanted the school’s permanent base to be at St Ursula’s.
The Brentry site is very close to Henbury School, whose head teacher Clare Bradford has led opposition to the free school proposal.
Mr King said last night that Bristol City Council had confirmed that Brecon Road is still its preferred option so the Department for Education was working with the authority and had commissioned a detailed study.
“This is another very exciting development,” he said.
A new primary school, the St Ursula’s E-Act Primary Academy, will open at the former St Ursula’s on September 5.
It is likely that this school will eventually be accommodated in
new buildings on the nine-acre Brecon Road site, which was bought by the council for £2 million last year.
Head teacher Richard Clutterbuck will be showing parents around the new school site in Brentry from Tuesday.
He said: “I am proud to now be the head teacher of the largest free school in England – and for that free school to be here in Bristol.
“All of my staff are looking forward to welcoming our new Year 7 on September 5.
“The staff share my passionate commitment to developing our students to be happy, responsible and academically successful young people.
“The Bristol Free School looks forward to playing an active part in the Bristol family of schools and to making its contribution to the rising standards in the city.”