Free school 'buzzing' with 90 pupils, but still no permanent site

EXPANDING NUMBERS: Some of the new year seven pupils at The Durham Free School

EXPANDING NUMBERS: Some of the new year seven pupils at The Durham Free School

First published in News The Northern Echo: Photograph of the Author by , Reporter (Durham)

A CONTROVERSIAL free school has trebled in size for the new term, but is still waiting for a permanent site.

The Durham Free School (DFS) opened in the former Durham Gilesgate Sports College last September with 30 year seven pupils.

When classes resumed after the summer holiday earlier this week, there were 36 year eight pupils and 55 in the new year seven intake.

New staff have also been recruited – two full-time teachers and a teaching assistant, plus a music teacher, a design and technology technician, a librarian and a clerical assistant, all of whom are part-time.

Headteacher Peter Cantley said the new term had got off to a fantastic start.

However, the Department for Education is still yet to announce where the school will be located in the long-term and is seems increasingly possible DFS, which was set up to serve villages south-east of Durham City, will remain in Gilesgate beyond next summer.

DFS became the focus of the national free school debate after it emerged its first term cost the taxpayer nearly £900,000 – more than £25,000 per pupils.

Durham City Labour MP Roberta Blackman-Woods labelled it a waste of public money and called for it to be closed this summer; but parents hit back, saying their children’s education should come before political point scoring.

New year seven pupils are travelling from Bowburn, Coxhoe, Kelloe, Cassop, Spennymoor, Croxdale and Tudhoe.

Mr Cantley said there was a real buzz around the school and a great sense of anticipation and expectation with the beginning of the new school year.

“It’s extremely encouraging that we are growing as word is spreading that the Durham Free School is a good school and parents are seeing the benefits of smaller class sizes and an ethos that values every child,” he added.

Kate Parnaby, 11, of Bowburn, said: “So far it’s been really good, I’m really enjoying it.”

Regan Williams, 11, of Quarrington Hill, said: “I have lots of friends here and it’s really good.”

Bradley Walters, 11, of Bowburn, said: “It wanted to come here because my best mate Regan was coming. I really like the blazer, it makes me feel smart.”

DFS is expected to grow each year, to 630 pupils including a sixth form.

Free schools are directly funded by and responsible to the Department for Education, rather than the local education authority.

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