PLANS to open three free schools in Newcastle have cleared the first hurdle.
The schools, which would be free from local authority control and able to set their own curriculum, opening hours, recruitment and salaries, have progressed to the first formal stage of the process and their backers will now be interviewed by the Department for Education.
Newcastle City Council leader Nick Forbes said last night he had been informed of the applications and reiterated his concern that free schools would damage education by causing other schools to close.
Representatives from NCG, Newcastle College’s parent company, the charity Kids And Us and Jesmond Parish Church will be interviewed next month.
If successful, they will proceed to the second stage which involves an impact assessment, designed to assess the likely effects on existing schools, and consultation.
Coun Forbes said: “I’m concerned that free schools are being considered by the Government without any assessment of the impact on existing schools in Newcastle.
“Simply increasing the number of schools will increase competition and force existing schools to close. There must be a better and more effective way of organising education.”
NCG wants to open a free school in the west end of Newcastle close to the site of Excelsior Academy. Coun Forbes has previously criticised NCG and yesterday described the plan as “crazy”.
He said: “Why does anybody think it’s an effective use of public money to set up a new school that will be in direct competition with another school that’s just had £40m spent on it? It’s a crazy proposal.”
In a column for The Journal, NCG group director Raza Khan insisted the group was committed to an admissions policy that does not select on the basis of ability, postcode, parental income or faith and rejected suggestions there was a profit motive behind the plan.
Kids And Us has submitted plans for a West Newcastle Academy. Phil Garner, a former head of Newcastle School for Boys, is a director of the academy.
No site has been announced for the primary school yet but project coordinator Richard Evans said he was confident one would be identified. “We don’t anticipate a major problem with the site,” he said. “There are a number of possibilities and we are confident.”
The final application to have made it to the interview stage is Clayton Academy, backed by Jesmond Parish Church.
If approved, the school would provide education for children aged from four to 18.
The Rev Jonathan Pryke, executive minister of Jesmond Parish Church and a trustee of the Jesmond Trust, has said the church was overwhelmed by the positive response to its plans.
Free schools are Education Secretary Michael Gove’s flagship policy. Coun Forbes has invited the minister to visit Newcastle after he criticised the city’s education performance in Parliament.
Simply increasing the number of schools will increase competition and force existing schools to close