EDUCATION entered a new era when the first free school for Sunderland opened its doors to pupils.
After 18 months of planning, Grindon Hall Christian School became one of the 55 new free schools to open across the country.
Yesterday, more than 150 pupils and 15 staff started at the Pennywell school, which has seen fees scrapped.
Headteacher Chris Gray said after the months of hard work, it felt fantastic to finally be open as a free school.
He said: “It is absolutely brilliant. It is quite a strange feeling that we have actually done it.
“It was lovely to see all the children walking into the school this morning.
“While it is very exciting to be a free school, I do want to stress that for us it is business as usual, the same school, the same ethos and the same principles.”
The school and parents faced a worrying time over the funding agreement with the Department of Education, which was eventually signed at the end of July, giving final confirmation that the school could open.
However, Mr Gray said the school did not actually get the money into the bank account until the first morning of term.
He said: “We knew we would be getting it and we didn’t need the cash to open, but it was nice to see it in the bank account.”
The school, which will eventually have 560 pupils, is now planning a £3.5million expansion to cater for the extra students.
Mr Gray said the new building will include a multi-purpose hall, 14 classrooms and a new kitchen. There will also be extensive landscaping work carried out in the grounds.
Free schools are publicly-funded, but free from local authority control and Mr Gray believes the move will fulfil the original ambitions of the founders of Grindon Hall Christian School - to provide an exceptional education with a Christian ethos for as many children as possible.
He said the school is oversubscribed and there are huge waiting lists for most year groups, especially reception and Year 7.
However, he said there are a couple of year groups, including Year 4 and Year 9, where there are a couple of places available.