Parents: ‘We were right to open free school’

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PARENTS who fought to open the first free school in County Durham say new research has validated their campaign.

More than a third of parents in the North East think the standard of schools in their area is average or worse, according to a new survey on behalf of the New Schools Network.

The study also found that 57 per cent of the region’s parents felt the number of school places available is not good, and one-in-four said they would have chosen a different school given the chance.

The Durham Free School opened last September after a three-year campaign by parents who wanted a school dedicated to serving communities to the south east of Durham city, and that had a broadly Christian ethos.

They said their children were bottom of the priority list for the city’s good schools due to where they live.

Jenny Denning, who campaigned for the school, said: “Durham is fortunate enough to have a number of good schools, and we don’t know if those parents who expressed unhappiness with their school in the survey were from the Durham area.

“What the research does show, however, is that parents want choice and that many believe free schools can offer that choice.

“From experience, I can say that developing a free school is not an easy option – it’s extremely hard work and takes over the lives of those who are committed to it.

“However, now The Durham Free School is open and providing outstanding education for our children, it is definitely worth it, and parents who are inspired to develop a free school for their area, because they believe it’s best for their children, should be encouraged.”

The Durham Free School started with just 30 Year 7 students, but has tripled in size this year to 91 pupils. It will grow eventually to 630, including a sixth form.

Free schools are funded directly by the Government, are independent of local authority control and set up by a group of individuals or an organisation.

The research by the New Schools Network also found that 71 per cent of parents would consider sending their child to a free school if one opened in their area.

Findings also seemed to back features that The Durham Free School offers, including a longer school day and a broad range of after-school activities.