Posted on 02/07/2014

London families in disarray following threat to Free school opening

With under three weeks of the school year left, nearly 100 west London boys and their families are reeling from the news that the secondary free school they had been ready to join in September is suddenly under serious threat.

The Fulham Boys School yesterday (1st July) had to break the news to parents that negotiations on funding with the Department for Education (DfE) have apparently broken down at the final hurdle, with the Department currently refusing to allow the school to open on 8 September.

Whilst FBS is adamant that pupils’ best interests lie in the school opening as planned on its agreed temporary site at Gibbs Green in North Fulham, uncertainty over its permanent location appears to have caused officials to think again. FBS has been guaranteed a home at Gibbs Green for at least two years. This had been seen as sufficient time for the DfE, Hammersmith & Fulham Council and other interested parties to work through options for FBS’s permanent home.

Chairman of FBS Governors, Alex Wade, said: “The new H&F Council has pledged to stand up for all types of schools, including free schools. Apparently the DfE has yet to be convinced this means support for FBS. It’s imperative that this political misunderstanding is cleared up as a priority, because caught in the middle are nearly 100 boys and their families, whose interests are being ignored.

“We simply don’t accept that political misunderstanding could or should result in the plug being pulled on FBS less than three weeks before the summer holidays. How can it be in the best educational interests of pupils? Parents are committed to FBS and its boy-focussed academic curriculum. Boys have been fitted for their uniform and have got to know each other at our transition days. Our head, Alun Ebenezer, has recruited an outstanding team of teachers and support staff.”

FBS governors are continuing to push the Secretary of State to think again.
Mr Wade continued: “We’re devastated. We’d been given the green light to open at Gibbs Green. Our education plans have been signed off by the Department as the best they have seen. A few weeks ago we passed our pre-opening inspection from OFSTED. Do officials understand what this means for FBS parents, now forced to rethink their choice of secondary school, facing a frantic scramble and desperate hope that alternate last minute places might become available before September?

“Why not give FBS the chance to prove its pledge to become an outstanding school within its first two years at Gibbs Green? Why inflict a summer of misery and uncertainty on boys, their parents, the staff and all those who have worked tirelessly over the years to get this far? And why cast such uncertainty over the free schools programme ability to deliver successful schools?”

Notes
The Fulham Boys School is a secondary Church of England Free School for boys. Term was due to start on 8 September at Gibbs Green, North Fulham, on premises with the capacity for FBS for at least two years.

The new Labour administration in Hammersmith and Fulham, elected in May, has pledged to increase the amount of affordable housing in new developments. This has two potential impacts on FBS. First, that demand for secondary places will increase more rapidly than forecast – H&F estimates had been that secondary places would run out by 2018 – even with FBS opening (there remains a forecast surplus of primary places until at least 2023). Second, that until there is clarity on H&F’s new plans for housing density, it is uncertain how much land may be free for new permanent premises for FBS.

FBS has been set up by local parents and teachers, responding to longstanding local demand for an outstanding Church of England Secondary school for boys.

Media contact: Rebeccca Mowling – Rebecca@fulhamboysschool.org

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