Gatwick free school team set sights on Horsham

North Horsham masterplan released by Liberty on August 1 2016
North Horsham masterplan released by Liberty on August 1 2016

The team responsible for The Gatwick School wants to open a free school for 4-16-year-olds north of Horsham.

The Aurora Academies Trust hopes to submit an application to the Department for Education (DfE) by the end of the month asking to open the school as part of the 2,750-home development planned for the area.

Tim McCarthy, CEO Aurora Academies Trust

Tim McCarthy, CEO Aurora Academies Trust

Tim McCarthy, chief executive officer at the trust, said: “We are keen to build on the success of The Gatwick School by opening a free school in Horsham.

“We want to work alongside local parents to deliver a new school to meet the demand for places. We know that Horsham schools already have a good reputation and we are keen to add to the choice for parents by offering an all-through school.”

A shortage of school places is a problem Horsham shares with the rest of the county.

West Sussex County Council published a report in February, called Planning School Places, in which it recognised the likelihood of a shortfall of secondary school places in the town by 2018.

This despite the fact Tanbridge House School is undergoing expansion to take on an additional two forms of entry (60 children per year group).

In addition, both the Millais School and the Forest School agreed to temporarily take extra numbers until a new secondary school could be built.

The report said their were currently sufficient primary school places but, with at least 16,000 new homes planned for the area by 2031, including the project north of Horsham, that would be likely to change quite rapidly.

Mr McCarthy said: “We will be putting in a very serious application to the Department for Education.

“We are an approved sponsor which means any application we put in will be treated seriously. We’ve lived up to our promises, for example we only appoint qualified teachers at our schools. One would hope the DfE would look favourably on our application.”

Mr McCarthy said the school was likely to open in 2019 – though that of course depends on approval for the development being given.

The school would open with 60 children at primary level and 120 at secondary, increasing year-on-year until it reached its full capacity, 1,020 children – 420 at primary and 600 at secondary.

Mr McCarthy said the trust had had “very good discussions with the county council” who were “keen for us to put an application in”.

He added: “We’ve been in touch with all the schools and they are aware of the need and demand for places.”

A council spokesman said: “We have spoken with several academy trusts who are interested in making free school applications and have held initial conversations with Aurora Academies Trust. We recognise that the proposed housing development in Horsham is expected to generate educational need and the government’s free school programme is one option for delivering the provision of a new secondary school.

“Other academy trusts have expressed interest in sponsoring primary and secondary schools in the Horsham area but any decision would be made by the Secretary of State for Education.”

Aurora has built up something of a reputation for helping schools to improve.

The Oakwood Academy, in Eastbourne, has just been rated ‘good’ by Ofsted having been told to improve before the trust took it over. Kings Offa Academy, in Bexhill, was in special measures when Aurora moved in and has now been rated ‘good’.

While Mr McCarthy said free schools were more likely to be judged ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted, the government’s latest figures show the picture has not been so pretty when it came to Key Stage 2 tests.

This year, only 48 per cent of free schools made the expected standard in reading, writing and maths, compared to 54 per cent of local authority schools.

Mr McCarthy added: “We’ve got a lot of educational expertise we can put in.

“We believe that the experience we’ve picked up along the way will mean we can bring quality education to the people of Horsham.”

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