It appears the ARK Conway two form entry primary free school slated for White City in Hammersmith and Fulham may have to be reduced to being a one form entry school.Press releases by the school and the local council have recently cited the 63 applications for 60 places as evidence of real demand and need – but we now await confirmation of whether enough parents actually put it as their first choice. Some reports suggest that there may not even be enough ‘real demand’ to fill even a one form entry primary.
This further illustrates the problems with the process. It exposes the ‘red herring’ of ‘expressions of interest’ and application numbers that Free Schools like Ark and Rivendale use to support their process. On the one hand ‘expressions of interest’ seem to be treated as ‘evidence of demand’ by the flimsy Stage 2 process, even though the DfE itself doesn’t use that criteria in determining ‘real demand’ for people who want to set the schools up. Then, these 63 applications are used to show how popular the new school will be – until we find out that this probably doesn’t equate to strong demand either.
Parents usually put children down at multiple schools and yet free schools like Rivendale treat application numbers at local schools (provided helpfully by the Council) as if they are distinct and different children – implying they are all rolling individually in the aisles of local schools and therefore proof that a new school is needed.
Our initial push by Rivendale primary free school was reported to be on 34 expressions of interest . It apparently told a supporters group recently that there were 22 people interested in its second (to be confirmed) proposed location. I don’t know how many expressions of interest ARK Conway had for its Stage 2, but the forty parents on the mailing list at the consultation report date may not have materialised into a viable number of children for the originally proposed school.
When you start with this base of support, then introduce the migration factor, it seems hard to imagine these experimental schools being successful. If these schools manage to open and then flounder, the financial loss in this ‘age of austerity’, the human toll for children and families, the dilution effect on the budgets of other schools, and the division that the entire issue creates in communities will take a long time to heal.