Sunderland ‘free school’ bid not about making profit, insists principal

Grindon Hall Christian School, Pennywell, Sunderland.

Grindon Hall Christian School, Pennywell, Sunderland.

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SUNDERLAND’S Grindon Hall Christian School will this month find out if it has been granted permission to set up as a free school.

If successful, the Pennywell all-age school will, from September 2012, ditch fees for parents and become funded by central Government, while remaining independent of the local authority, Sunderland City Council.

Principal Chris Gray says the move would fulfil the original ambitions of the founders to provide an exceptional education with a Christian ethos for as many children as possible.

He said class sizes and methods of teaching would remain the same, but places will be allocated on the proximity of families living near the school.

Not everyone is in favour of free schools and with the first 24 opening across England this term the subject has caused some controversy.

This week, deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg ruled out the fears of sceptics that free schools would be run for profit, taking just top students.

He said they would instead give more parental choice and opportunities for those living in deprived areas.

He said free schools: “... must not be the preserve of the privileged few – creaming off the best pupils while leaving the rest to fend for themselves, causing problems for and draining resources from other nearby schools”.

“So let me give you my reassurance - I would never tolerate that.”

Mr Clegg also called on free schools to admit at least the same proportion of free school meal pupils as the local average and open up facilities to the local community.

As far as Grindon Hall is concerned, Mr Gray said there would be no question of it being run for profit.

He said: “It will not be run for profit, it can’t be anyway under the guidelines.

“I don’t see how anyone could run a free school for profit.”

Although Grindon Hall has an exceptional academic record, Mr Gray said it has never been a selective one with children having to sit an entrance exam, and that would not be the case under a free school.

The principal said: “The criteria would be proximity to the school. The children who live closest would be the ones who get a place.”

He said it is unlikely that all the youngsters living in the catchment area of the school are going to be top academically.

Grindon Hall’s governing body is expecting to hear at the end of September if it has been successful in its application to become a free school and if so it will be the first in the North East.