Sunderland pupils in ‘nightmare’ limbo as school places cash held up

Grindon Hall Christian School in Sunderland.

Grindon Hall Christian School in Sunderland.

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HUNDREDS of families have been left in limbo because Government cash has not been handed over to a Sunderland free school.

Grindon Hall Christian School, in Pennywell, is due to open as one of the region’s first free schools in September, but the Department for Education has not yet paid out the funding.

The “nightmare” situation has left hundreds of parents who have applied for their children for one of the 560 places at the school, still waiting to see whether or not their child will be going there in September.

“As a free school we can’t make firm offers of places until the funding agreement is in place,” said principal Chris Gray.

“It is a nightmare situation, it really is. It is difficult for us as a school, but that doesn’t matter. It is the terrible situation the parents and pupils are in.”

Mr Gray said the school is heavily oversubscribed, so there will be scores of people who have applied who won’t get a place, but everyone is just left waiting at the moment.

“It is so upsetting and I wish there was something we could do, but we are completely powerless.”

Grindon Hall has now broken up for the holidays, so Mr Gray is keeping parents updated via its website.

The problem is also impacting on all the other school’s in the catchment area, with headteachers not knowing how many of their pupils might leave to take up a place at Grindon Hall, leaving them with a shortfall in September.

Washington and Sunderland West MP, Sharon Hodgson, who is also shadow education minister, criticised the government for the situation.

She has written to the Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove MP, to demand an urgent investigation and resolution to the uncertainty, as well as a full explanation of the delay.

Mrs Hodgson said: “It is completely unacceptable that parents should be left in limbo like this.

“Whether or not you agree with the policy of free schools, parents deserve to know where their children will be going to school in a few weeks’ time so that they can make preparations, including buying uniforms and arranging travel.

“This delay is a complete shambles, and yet more evidence of a department in chaos.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “Funding for the Grindon Hall Free School is in place and we expect to sign a funding agreement in time for the school to open in September.”

Grindon Hall was given the go-head last year to change from a fee-paying private school to a free school in September.

Free schools are publicly-funded, but free from local authority control.

Mr Gray believes the move will 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 will remain the same, but places will be allocated on the proximity of families living near the Pennywell school.

The Coalition wants free schools to be non-profit making, independent, state-funded schools and can be either primary or secondary schools.

They could be located in traditional school buildings or appropriate community spaces such as office buildings or church halls, and can be set up by a wide range of proposers, including charities, universities, businesses, educational groups, visionary teachers or committed parents.

Twitter: @sunderlandecho