Sunderland private school refusing to give up hope of claiming ‘free’ status

Grindon Hall Christian School, Pennywell, Sunderland.

Grindon Hall Christian School, Pennywell, Sunderland.

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HOPES are still high to transform a private school into one of the city’s first free schools.

Grindon Hall Christian School is ploughing ahead with plans to scrap fees and preparing its application, despite nine schools across the region failing at the first hurdle.

The move would see the school gain state funding, but remain independent of the local education authority.

Principal Chris Gray said: “We are pursuing our application, and the deadline has not yet been reached for the September 2012 opening.”

Parents of children living in Durham City, struggling to secure a place for their children at high-performing Durham Johnston School, were dealt a blow when it was revealed its plan to set up a school for families in Bowburn and the surrounding area was one of those binned.

The aim of free schools is to hand over power to parents, teachers or charities to set up their own establishments, allowing them the freedom to set their own ethos and subject specialisms.

The move would also give parents extra choice of where they would like to send their child.

Nationally, it has been revealed that tens of millions of pounds set aside by the government to rebuild crumbling schools – after the Building Schools for the Future scheme was scrapped – will now be used for free schools.

The announcement has sparked anger across the North East, where 79 secondary schools had hoped to get their hands on a share of the rescue package.

Andy Burnham, Labour’s education spokesman, said: “At a time when school budgets are falling, every penny should be targeted where it is needed.

“However, instead of focusing on raising standards in the most deprived areas, as Labour did, the Government is diverting funds to academies and free schools in areas that already have high standards.”

A free school gives parents, businesses and charities the chance to run their own school.

The primary or secondary schools get their cash from the Department for Education, but are not allowed to make a profit.

Parents apply for places in the same way as with other schools.

Beccy Earnshaw, director of Schools NorthEast, said she was not surprised at the lack of interest in the region in the free schools scheme.

“This was very much a reaction to the situation in the South East, where there is a shortage of primary schools.

“In the North East the shortage of pupils is more a problem than a shortage of places.”