Plans for new free school announced

AN innovative partnership between two schools could see a new free school set up to help students and families let down by cuts to the council’s education-other-than-at-school budget.

The proposal, drawn up by City of Ely College principal Catherine Jenkinson-Dix and her counterpart at The Harbour School in Wilburton, Mary Rayner, is for an entirely new 8-16 school called The Bridge, which will provide a highly personalised curriculum, tailored to the specific needs of each student.

“These are some of our most vulnerable young people,” said Mrs Jenkinson-Dix. “For a number of different emotional or behavioural reasons, they just do not get on in mainstream school. They need something else, something very specific to their individual needs.

“Until recently, when we’ve identified that a child requires an alternative means of education but does not have a statement of special needs, we have been able to access local authority support and, if needed, refer the student to the PRU. But as cuts to public services have begun to take effect, these services have been gradually rolled back, leaving these young people in environments which are clearly not right for them.

“This does them no good, but it is also damaging to the other students whose education can be disrupted and slowed down.”

The proposal, which will be submitted to the Department for Education (DfE) in June, is for a free school to open in September 2012, taking advantage of a recent amendment to the Government’s policy which allows groups to set up free schools for alternative needs. Governed by local school heads, parents and community leaders, The Bridge will be managed and delivered by 7KS, a provider of vocational learning programmes.

Local mainstream schools will refer students to the school when they identify a specific need, as is currently the case with the authority provision. The Bridge will, however, offer a more cost effective, innovative, and tailored solution, which will be carefully negotiated with the referring school, the student and their parents to ensure the best outcomes for each individual. It will also offer the service to primary schools for KS2 students, something they have not previously had access to.

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Headteacher Mrs Rayner, said: “Our initial discussions with the schools in the Ely and Witchford Partnerships that will ultimately benefit from The Bridge have been very positive, most notably amongst the primaries which all too often identify potential problems in their students at an early stage, but can’t currently access effective support.

“If there is one thing we know from all the data about these students, it’s that early intervention is critical. If we continue to get it wrong, the ultimate cost to society in unemployment and anti-social behaviour, not to mention the lost potential in some of these highly creative young people, is all too high.”

Ben Gibbs, development manager at Ely College, is co-ordinating the application to the DfE. He said: “Having consulted with local schools and others about the concept, we are now in a position to seek more formal support and will be talking to parents, teachers and community leaders in more detail over the coming weeks. We have also identified several potential sites for the new school and will be working with 7KS, the department and local stakeholders to pull everything together for what will be a critical resource for the area.”