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Frantic hunt for C of E free school’s premises

11 July 2014


Putting the question: Boris Johnson acts as impromptu quizmaster during the London Knowledge Quiz competition, at the Museum of London, on Wednesday 

Putting the question: Boris Johnson acts as impromptu quizmaster during the London Knowledge Quiz competition, at the Museum of London, on Wednesday...

THE Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, was leading frantic efforts this week to put together a last-minute rescue plan for the Fulham Boys School (FBS), a Church of England free school, which had been due to open in temporary premises in September, with a first-year intake of about 90 pupils.

Preparations for the opening had been unexpectedly halted last week after the Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, refused to sign off funding for the school because a permanent site had not been confirmed. A letter from the Department for Education said that the project would be deferred by at least a year.

Postponement of the opening would leave at least 84 boys without a secondary-school place, and would put in jeopardy the jobs of newly recruited staff, many of whom had given up senior posts in other schools.

While local politicians - including the MP for Chelsea and Fulham, Greg Sands - lobbied education ministers, staff from the Mayor of London's education team were looking for a suitable Greater London Authority-owned site that could be offered to FBS as a permanent home. A spokesman for the Mayor's office said that he had telephoned Mr Gove last Friday, and was hopeful that a solution could be found. "Given the pressure on school places in London, the Mayor shares the concern of pupils and parents," the spokesman said.

A meeting between Mr Gove and Mr Johnson was planned to take place this week, to make a final decision that will benefit the boys who no longer have a school to go to in September.

In a further move, it is understood that the chairman of FBS's trustees, Alex Wade, was due to meet Lord Nash, the minister responsible for free schools, on Wednesday.

FBS was proposed as a designated C of E boys' school in an area of west London which has no single-sex boys schools, by a group of mostly Anglican parents, about half of whom attend All Saints', Fulham. The planned school is intended to emphasise academic and sporting achievement.

The London Diocesan Board for Schools supports the project, but was not part of the proposing group. It does, however, have one representative on the trustees, and a further member represents the deanery.

The school was originally offered a permanent site at Sullivan Primary School, which Hammersmith and Fulham Council's previous Conservative-led administration had earmarked for merger with another primary. But, after Labour took control of the council in May, the new administration decided to review the merger. Since it had no certainty of a permanent site, the long-term future of FBS was then questioned by the Education Funding Agency, which provides the capital for free schools on the Government's behalf.

Tory and Labour politicians are united in support for FBS. In a statement, the Labour councillor Sue Macmillan, Hammersmith and Fulham's Cabinet Member for Education, said that she had asked the Secretary of State for an explanation of his "devastating" change of heart on FBS nine weeks before it was due to open. "This administration believes that free schools have an important role to play in improving the quality of places on offer to local families," she said.

Local Anglican leaders, including the Bishop of Kensington, the Rt Revd Paul Williams; the Area Dean of Hammersmith and Fulham, the Revd Guy Wilkinson; and the clergy and churchwardens of All Saints', Fulham, all expressed their support for FBS this week.

Interviewed on BBC1's Andrew Marr Show on Sunday, the Shadow Education Secretary, Tristram Hunt, promised that, although a Labour government would not extend the free-schools programme, it would retain, and continue to support, existing free schools.

The Mayor of London has already made available ten disused police stations for school development, to help meet the pressure on school places, it has been announced. One of these will provide the base for the University Technical School, Newham, which is sponsored by Chelmsford diocese.

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