We have always promised to be open, honest and transparent about our school proposal and to take into account all feedback received from the local community. Most feedback has been extremely positive, and you can read some of it in our “testimonials” section. Some has been more challenging, and through open dialogue and in providing comprehensive, honest answers to questions, we have found that support for our proposal has increased. The more frequently asked questions, that have been concerning some members of the local community are listed, and answered, below.
Do Free Schools take money from the State School Funding system?
Free Schools are funded directly by the education skills and funding agency at the same rate as per-pupil funding in any mainstream school. The DfE has a free school funding pot, it is not taken out of the state school funding pot, so it is not damaging to current state school funding and no local schools will see their funding cut to cater for our Free School.
Will the opening of your school not see a mass exodus of pupils from other local schools?
The DfE would not allow another Secondary School to open if they didn’t believe there will be a need for more school places available to students in this area by 2020. It would make no sense to have two half empty schools. As it is, the other schools around our proposed area are already heavily oversubscribed, and the population is increasing fast, with the largest number of primary school pupils on role that this county has ever known. More Secondary School places will need to be created in the next few years. If our school proposal is not approved (and this is a real possibility), the LEA will have to find extra school places by extending the local secondary schools, making them even bigger. So there will not be a mass exodus from other local secondary schools, in order for a new school to open, the DfE have to be convinced that both would be full.
Our plan is also for a phased opening – we would only open to year 7 in 2020, then year 7 and year 8 in 2021, and so on. Therefore there is no scope for people “leaving” other schools as a new school opening in this manner will only affect the choices being made by Primary School leavers.
Won’t opening a new school be detrimental to other schools in the area?
We are fully committed to working together with all local schools, to collaborate on best practice and share expertise and we have been openly discussing this proposal with the LEA and various other key players who we want to collaborate with.
When Fulham Boys School opened, there were already three low performing schools in Fulham, these being half empty – on paper there was no need for a new school, although there was a need for a “good” school. Now, five years later, there are four very good schools in Fulham. Put simply, a very good school opening in an area where other schools currently exist, drives performance up (like with any competition in the business world), ensuring all schools improve. If approved, our school’s existence has the potential to ensure all surrounding schools improve.
Why are you proposing a school with a Christian Ethos?
The faith element comes from the fact that Successful Free School Applications are the ones that offer something really different – something not currently available. There is no point putting an application in for something that’s the same as just down the road. There is a huge gap in the market for this, with no other non-fee paying State Funded faith school in Cambridgeshire other than St Bedes. So the first answer is that it sets us apart from anything being offered elsewhere locally, and gives us a greater chance of success in being approved. That said, we are fully committed to this being a school with a Christian ethos. Seeking Faith School status is not just a vehicle we’re using to get acceptance with the DfE, although it certainly makes us stand out.
Secondly, there are many Church of England Primary Schools, with a strong Christian ethos in Cambridgeshire. The fact that there are no Secondary Schools with a similar ethos, means that children do not have the option of continuity and progression from one type of primary school to another similar type of secondary school. Research shows that continuity and smooth transition aids the learning process, improving results.
Thirdly, there is huge demand for this choice. We currently have 562 signatures on our online petition – 57% of these say they want to see a Faith school option for their children, without having to pay for it. That’s a sizeable demand for what we are proposing, one that can’t be ignored. In a market economy parents should have more choice as to where and how their children are educated, without having to pay for it, and many parents want their children educated in a Christian Secondary School.
Could good common sense and discipline not be a substitute for “Faith” teaching?
Show us a school where they do not believe in good common sense or discipline. There are none. Show us a school that teaches their children that bullying is a good idea, rudeness is fine, manners are a waste of time – there are none. The faith element truly sets our school apart, making it distinctive. By looking at the specific claims made by Jesus Christ in the Gospel message, we are better able to delve deeply into the following themes, and also cross reference the message of the Gospel with other opinions and beliefs on these and allow students to form their own world view:
- Self Control
- Hard work
What is inclusive about a Christian School? It sounds narrow and segregated.
There is no segregation going on here – it’s a school open to anyone, of any religion as well as none. It is a school with a Christian ethos, not a school for Christians. It is also important to remember it is a school, not a church. Yes it’s a school with a Christian ethos, but this does not mean it has to be narrow. We believe our curriculum is wider and more varied than most offerings locally. Read more about these later!
You can read more about our Christian ethos here, but it is fair to say it would be legally indefensible to brainwash or indoctrinate young people into any belief set. The government are committed to ensuring this cannot happen and we as founders find no place for narrow ideology in a school setting. This school proposal seeks to prevent exactly that. Young adults should be presented with all the options and encouraged to weigh them up, evaluate them with an open mind, be encouraged to form their own viewpoint, and feel safe in expressing and debating these within the parameters of being reflective and sensitive to the opinions of others.
What is going to attract students and parents who have No Faith to your school?
In our application, we wrote: “The currency of the future is resilience, an ability to solve problems, deal with failure, possess a can-do attitude. If we want to develop pupils who can change and improve the world, we need to encourage and provide them with opportunities to take risks, be daring, be ‘game changers’ – in a word, be Enterprising.”
Curriculum plans therefore centre around the word “Enterprise”. This will include strong links with local businesses, real-life learning to prepare students for good universities or good jobs and to encourage them to decide on the right route for themselves as an individual. We want to encourage students to be enterprising socially and personally to also reflect the Christian ethos of the school. Students would be encouraged to shop for the elderly, read books and make tea in a nursing home or volunteer in the community. This is designed to get pupils to empathise with the world around them, understand the intricate makeup of society, how it is structured of many layers of people with different ages, needs, beliefs and priorities – all valuable in their own right. So, whilst we plan a very academic school, this will be more than just a school, it will be a school with a culture nurtured through the Christian faith and an enterprising curriculum.
We also plan a longer school day to make time and space in the curriculum for a wealth of clubs. In the application, we listed the following as clubs or activities that we really wanted our teenagers to be able to participate in, for free, during school hours:
Aikido; judo; rowing; running; fencing; rugby; athletics; badminton; circuit training; basketball; football; gymnastics; hockey; table tennis; trampolining; netball; cricket; rounders; dance; art; photography; science alive; book share; Bible Study; latin; choir; orchestra; greenpower; spanish culture; french; german; cookery; stamp collecting; chess; strings; homework help; success in business; journalism; thimbles; coding; maths mentoring; politics; debating; drama and productions; project management; young engineers; young farmers; Duke of Edinburgh; gardening.
We also want to be a school that values sporting achievements and the personal and social attributes that come from playing competitive team and individual sports. We want to be a school that produces the best results in the country academically but also produces outstanding young sports men and women. Therefore the school week will be timetabled to ensure every student gets a whole afternoon of Sport per week. We also aim to utilise the local facilities – the renowned Huntingdon Gymnasium, the local Rugby and Football clubs, nearby Horse riding stables, as well, of course, as the Cambridge rowing club.
Explain how your proposal gives my child a “better shot” than at the local state school, that’s performing fine?
This aims to be a school where it doesn’t matter what your social standing, faith (or otherwise) or wealth is, you should be entitled to an exceptional education – for free. Why should people have to pay for an education as good as is found in the Independent Sector? This school proposal explicitly models itself on the success of private schools, but open to absolutely anyone. Research at Cambridge University Faculty of Education shows that disadvantaged students are never given the same opportunities to excel in life (in “the local state school”) as those who are born into more socially mobile families. (See Diane Reay “Miseducation”) That just doesn’t seem fair. Every child is entitled to an exceptional education. This school proposal seeks to bridge the gap between the richer and poorer, and show that in school, during lessons, if teaching is inspiring and exceptional, it doesn’t matter what your background is, you are entitled to have high aspirations for yourself and to achieve.
To achieve this, we are planning smaller class sizes, a longer school day and an enterprising curriculum so that learning links together, is tailored to individuals and maps out a flight path for each student according to their needs – whether they plan to go to university or whether they want to get the best job out there when they leave – learning from the outset will be geared towards getting them there. A smaller secondary school is better suited to this type of individualised learning – 120 students per year group is considered small.
Please do feel free to send a message to our inbox, firstname.lastname@example.org if you feel we haven’t addressed a question or concern you may have about our proposal. All feedback is valued, and we appreciate that there are many views to take into consideration, but will endeavour to take all into account, always seeking to making the best decisions for our school.
As Alun Ebenezer, Head at Fulham Boys School recently tweeted: “The best schools come from the community, understand the community + meet the needs of the community. A once in a generation opportunity. Always Important to do the right thing not the easiest thing!”