Parent campaigners in Leeds plan new free school ‘to close places blackhole’

Lucy Clement one of the parents leading the free school plan.
Lucy Clement one of the parents leading the free school plan.
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CAMPAIGNERS from Leeds who battled to secure extra places for their children now plan to open their own free school for future generations.

Some of the parents involved in the Fair Access Group in North Leeds are to submit a bid for a new school for the West Park area of Roundhay.

The group was established after parents in Roundhay, Moortown and Alwoodley claimed they were living in a places blackhole with no chance of getting into local schools. Around 80 missed out on places at their preferred choices leading to the high profile campaign.

Leeds City Council has since secured 90 more places at three primaries but now parents want a long term solution. Lucy Clement said: “We are very excited at the idea of being able to set up or own school. We would want it to have a broad appeal and be popular with the community.” They are now applying for a grant to start their project and hope to have a school open by 2017.

It had started as a campaign by parents to ensure their own children had a place at a local primary school they were happy with and could walk to from this September.

But now some of those involved could find themselves being the founder members of a new school in their community.

The Fair Access group has gone from being a Facebook page with a handful of members to a major campaign. And after putting questions to Leeds City Council’s leader Judith Blake, the Prime Minister David Cameron and Chancellor George Osborne and staging a rally outside Civic Hall they celebrated success when 90 more places were created by the council at Wigton Moor, Gledhow and Highfield primaries.

At the time Education Secretary Nicky Morgan said she wanted talks with Leeds City Council over the situation.

However Leeds City Council leader Coun Judith Blake dismissed any suggestion that these extra places had been found as a result of Government pressure. And she said she would welcome the chance to hold talks with Mrs Morgan over the impact Government policies had on school places planning in Leeds

Campaigner Lucy Clement has played a leading role in the Fair Access campaign. Last month she celebrated her daughter Daisy securing a place at Wigton Moor as a result of the extra places being found.

But now her focus and that of other campaigners has turned to what happens to cohorts in future in this part of Leeds.

She said: “It has happened very quickly but planning to open our own school feels very much like a natural progression for our group. It is about making sure the Fair Access campaign carries on to close the blackhole for our community.”

She added: “Children living in this part of Roundhay finally deserve to have a good local school that they are prioritised for in the allocation process and that they are able to walk to.”

She said finding the right location was crucial in ensuring a places blackhole did not happen again in future. And she said that she hoped a new school would help alleviate pressure on those schools which had agreed to take on bulge classes this September.

The group have applied for a grant from the New Schools Network to begin their project. They would then submit a formal application to the Department for Education.

Mark Rowlinson who is also involved said: “We would love to do something in time for September 2016 but 2017 may be more realistic. We feel really passionate about creating a fantastic school that addresses the clear need for places in the area – we want the school to appeal to everyone.”

“Our vision is for a school that truly engages with pupils, parents and the wider community and makes learning fun.”

Gillian Hayward, who is helping the group develop its education plan for the planned school said: “As the owner of three early years settings and chair of governors at two North Leeds schools, I have seen first-hand the impact that great teaching has on the lives of children and young people. I was therefore very happy to be invited by Lucy and Mark to be a part of this project to meet the needs of our local community.”

“We want our teachers to know the children really well, so that they can inspire pupils and remove barriers to learning and ensure that every individual reaches their full potential.”

Leeds City Council’s new executive member for children’s services Coun Lucinda Yeadon has said she plans to hold talks with parents campaigning for more places in the North of the city.

Coun Yeadon said that she was meeting with the Fair Access 2016 group - parents who have come together on the back of this year’s issue to secure places for children starting next September.

She said: “I am very keen to have a dialogue with parents. I want to talk to schools and to groups of parents.

“We know that in the future we are going to have more challenges with school places and we are going to work as hard as possible to meet that.”

On the the plan for a new free school, she said that she would be willing to talk to parents “exploring other opportunities.” “It is important to say that we do understand why as parents they are so concerned.”

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