A Northumbrian parent praises her local school and expresses concerns about Free Schools

Francis Gilbert's picture
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Georgina Armstrong, a parent of three children living in Embleton, Northumberland, told me this story:

I love my local primary village school, Vincent Edwards First School. I am a parent governor at the school and have two children currently at the school, and a child that’s gone through every year. My youngest son is in Reception, aged 4, and my second eldest is in Year 1, aged 6. It is excellent school.

I really like it because the staff are brilliant, from the teachers, to the secretary, to the caretaker. Everyone is friendly, approachable and will always help you out. They will always act in the interest of your child. The school is quite enlightened because as well as the more traditional literacy and numeracy, the children take lots of trips. They go to the beach, down the road, the local play park, which is around the corner – a playground which I, along with another two parents, raised 85,000 pounds for. The children also do things like gardening. They have a gardening area where they plant bulbs and seeds to grow vegetables. “I love playing with the compost in the garden,” says Harry, aged 6. The National Trust come in and plant with them, doing recycling. They are very big on recycling and being green. 90% of the children walk to school because they are from the village.

I am a bit worried at the moment that a neighbouring private school called Rock Hall School is seeking to become a Free School. I am concerned that if it does get state funding parents in the village will opt for Rock because of its social cache and think that their children will get a better education. If I was wealthy parent and I could send my children to Rock school, I wouldn’t because I believe in our village school, which is a brilliant school. I am worried that if Rock does become a Free School, Embleton will suffer, losing pupils and resources.

My children go to the local village school because it is excellent ; that’s why I chose it. It believes in “including” all children no matter what their backgrounds are; poor children, children from ethnic backgrounds, children with Special Needs. I worry that private schools don’t have these sorts of values because they only admit children whose parents can pay.

The school is also part of the Morrison’s Let's Grow voucher scheme, which involves parents of the school getting Morrison vouchers when they shop and giving them to the school. The whole community gets involved and hands in vouchers too. A certain amount of vouchers mean that the school can exchange them for gardening equipment, such as children’s watering cans, trowels, forks, plant pots and so on. Being a small school, we welcome any funds we get.

Our governing body means that the whole community runs our school. Our governing body consists of: the Vicar, two parent governors, a headteacher, a classroom teacher, and there are four other governors. Basically, everyone is from within the parish or a neighbouring village. This means that the whole community has a stake in the school and the school is accountable to local people. I am bit concerned to hear that Free Schools don’t really have this system of governance where a few sponsors, as opposed to local people with a local interest in their school, run the school.

I have never been to Rock so I can’t comment on the education there. It’s just a worry that’s at the back of my mind. I would certainly like to know more Free Schools in general.
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