New 420 pupil free school proposed for central Ipswich

The Active Learning Trust took over sponsorship of Chantry Academy in 2015

The Active Learning Trust took over sponsorship of Chantry Academy in 2015 - Credit: Gregg Brown

The Active Learning Trust already runs the town’s Sidegate, Gusford, and Hillside primary schools and Chantry Academy.

A 420-place free school could be built in central Ipswich if a new proposal by an education trust is accepted.

Active Learning Trust, which already runs Sidegate, Gusford, and Hillside primary schools and Chantry Academy, hopes to open a new primary school to ease pressure on places.

The proposal, which is currently in its preliminary stage and does not have a potential location, will be sent to the Department for Education next month. It will be submitted with a view to opening the school in September 2017. Free schools are independent, state funded and free to attend. They are not controlled by the local authority.

“We believe our experience in developing the new provision in Suffolk puts the trust in a very good position to deliver a new school in Ipswich,” said trust CEO Gary Peile.

“The trust is already working with schools in the town and feels that the new school will add considerably to its ability to meet the needs of local pupils. We will be agreeing a location with Suffolk County Council if our proposal is accepted.

“We operate a learning hub which enables school staff to work together to aid improvement and feel this is the right time for the trust to offer to support at least one more school for Ipswich, where pupil numbers are set to rise in the coming years.

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“The potential for a new free school, operating with our current group of schools, will enable pupils and staff to benefit from working with our other great schools from the date it opens.”

If the trust’s application is approved, the new school will serve children aged three to 11. It will open with one reception class of thirty pupils and then grow organically to its full capacity of 420. A nursery will provide a further 52 places.

But Graham White, secretary of Suffolk NUT, said it would be “totally unnecessary” to build a new free school in Ipswich, although he admitted provision for primary school places in the town is “poor”.

“We’re totally against free schools because they are unaccountable, exempt from the FOI act, and, most importantly, they can employ unqualified teachers. The only free school I support in Suffolk is Churchill in Haverhill, which provides education for autistic children,” he said.

“Otherwise, a free school is a huge concern for surrounding academies who will have to compete with the new school – which would cause serious issues in Ipswich. I’m sure it will be controversial.”

Set up by parents, education charities or religious groups, free schools are expected to offer a broad and balanced curriculum and are subject to the same Ofsted inspections as all other maintained schools. They are expected to comply with standard performance measures.

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