Free school vision now a step closer

CAMPAIGNERS behind a bid to set up their own community school last night told how an endorsement by Education Secretary Michael Gove marked “an historic moment”.

The Stour Valley Education Trust (SVET), based in Clare, wants to forge a new school in the town to replace the middle school when it is shut by Suffolk County Council in 2013.

The trust wants to set up an education centre for 11 to 16-year-olds to provide the community with a good local school and make use of a building which would otherwise have been lost.

Without the new Clare school, students who would once have gone to Clare Middle would instead travel to school in either Haverhill or Sudbury from the age of 11.

Yesterday Mr Gove cited the Clare “free school” project as one of 16 across the country he wants to see a full business plan for.

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“All of these proposals have been driven by demand from local people for improved choice for their young people and I am delighted that so many promising proposals have come forward at such an early stage,” said Mr Gove.

SVET chairman Keith Haisman said yesterday: “We are delighted to be in the first tranche of free schools to go forward to this stage. It is an historic moment when you think about it – and it is absolutely astounding what the community has achieved.”

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He said the aim of the people in and around Clare was to set up a “smaller school” which would provide “a really good education”. The group has until December to present the full business case. They will receive funding and expert advice from the government in order to do this.

“I think we’ve got a really robust business case,” Mr Haisman said. “This government seems to want smaller community schools that have local support and which make a difference in their local community. That is what we’re looking to do.”

The “free school” project has come in for criticism from some quarters.

In a recent speech to the House of Lords Lord Phillips of Sudbury said free schools would siphon off pupils from the more middle-class families, leaving existing schools with a depleted intake.

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