Team waits for news on free school bid

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THE team hoping to set up a new secondary school in Winslow will know by July whether their application has been successful.

Principal designate Peter Bird said the application to set up a Free School in the town was lodged with the Department of Education (DfE) in February and the steering group could be called for interview by the DfE any time between the end of April and the beginning of June.

If successful, it hopes to open the new school in September 2013.

A former headteacher at Quainton CofE Combined School, Mr Bird has been working more or less full time on the application.

He said: “Once it became apparent the free school was where my interest lies, it became a full-time job. You’re building a school from nothing to putting in an application in three months.”

Swanbourne resident Mr Bird, who left Quainton School 18 months ago, said: “I made the decision to commit to this full time, I believe in it so strongly. I’ve worked in the independent sector and the maintained sector in a number of schools and I’ve always believed there needs to be more choice.”

He said the eight to 10-strong steering group consists of professional people who are mainly parents looking for a different choice of secondary school for their children.

He said: “I believe very strongly that what children achieve academically from their education is of crucial importance but it’s how you get there that matters.

“We believe that the way children achieve close to their potential is they have their self-esteem built up by opportunities to succeed in sport, music, drama, and the arts. In our school if they like sport, children can opt for five hours competitive sport a week.”

He said there would also be a strong focus on extra-curricular activities.

“It really works – it’s something that worked very well at Quainton,” added Mr Bird, who took the school from Special Measures to Outstanding in three years.

Although the group’s preferred site for the school would be at the Winslow Centre, no negotiations have yet taken place with Bucks County Council, which owns the site.

Mr Bird said the Winslow Centre, which used to be the town’s secondary school, is greatly underused during the day.

He said: “The building’s got the potential for 42 teaching spaces in it. During the school day, I’ve never seen more than two or three being used at once.

“The plan would be to lease part of that building and leave the rest available for community use. What we’re 100 per cent not doing is wanting to take over the whole site.”

Mr Bird added: “The thrill as a head to set up your own school is quite exciting. It’s the most enjoyable thing you can do.”

The plan is to name the school the Sir Thomas Fremantle School, after the much-decorated local naval officer born in 1765 who was a great friend and companion of Nelson.

Already 440 pupils have been registered for the school, but greater numbers are needed to get approval from the DfE. Parents can visit www.sirthomasfremantle.org to register their children, or email newschoolhere@btinternet.com for answers to specific questions.