Three Tower Hamlets free schools plan to open in 2014—despite critics

Aneurin Bevan House in Commercial Road... soon housing London Enterprise Academy

Aneurin Bevan House in Commercial Road... soon housing London Enterprise Academy - Credit: London Enterprise Academy

Three academy schools are preparing to welcome their first intake of students later this year in London’s East End—in the face of growing scepticism of the ‘free school’ model.

Aneurin Bevan House in Commercial Road... soon housing London Enterprise Academy

Aneurin Bevan House in Commercial Road... soon housing London Enterprise Academy - Credit: London Enterprise Academy

The new London Enterprise Academy opening in September has secured Whitechapel’s Aneurin Bevan House in Commercial Road as its home, which will take up to 600 secondary pupils

The curriculum focuses on entrepreneurship with mentoring and work experience, backed by 56 east London businesses from accountancy firms to ice cream parlours.

“We are in a strong position,” said its Principal Designate, Ashid Ali. “We start with a blank canvass.”

Free schools are funded directly from Whitehall and run independently of local education authorities.

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Education Secretary Michael Gove introduced the model in 2010 to allow parents, teachers, charities, businesses, universities, trusts or religious groups the opportunity to respond to demand for greater autonomy over what is taught and how youngsters are assessed.

They get “excessive State funding” while draining cash away from the State school system, say critics.

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A recent National Audit Office report highlights the risks of decentralising control to schools away from local authorities, citing problems at two academies in the North of England.

Oliur Rahman, Tower Hamlets council cabinet member for Children’s Services, said: “The government should address the demand for more places by investing in our local State education, which is already highly praised.”

The report found that free schools were not being set up in areas where there were high or severe forecast needs, even though the scheme is targeted at the shortfall of primary school places.

Cllr Rahman added: “Unfortunately, Gove is approving every free school left, right and centre—without understanding the local needs. It varies from place to place.

“There’s no need for free schools if the government invested more in our state schools.”

But free schools are going ahead despite the scepticism.

Another planning to open in September is the East London Arts and Music Academy, run by a group of professionals from record labels, performance management and education who have come together to set up a creative arts sixth form with direct links to the music industry.

The academy was the brainchild of Will Kennard from electronic DJ duo ‘Chase & Status’ and Sir Nick Williams, former Head of The BRIT Performing Arts school. It is to cater for 72 ‘trainees’ in music performance, music technology and music business.

Co-founder Ed Butcher’s vision came from a shortage of skills in the music industry. There aren’t enough students leaving vocational courses with enough employability skills that the music industry needs, he found.

The East End’s first free school was Canary Wharf College that was opened in East Ferry Road, on the Isle of Dogs, by a group of parents in 2011. It recently received an “outstanding” Ofsted rating.

Founding Principal Sarah Counter is opening another primary school off the back of her success, Canary Wharf College 2, although a site has not yet been confirmed.

New schools will have a high standard to live up to. Ofsted’s 2012-13 report revealed that 100 per cent of Tower Hamlets pupils go to ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ state schools at secondary level and 87 per cent at primary level.

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