Swindon made national news on Monday when the government announced that bids for two new secondary schools here had been successful. We’re the only town to achieve that distinction in this latest round of the free schools programme. It’s something of which we can be immensely proud. Along with my colleague Justin Tomlinson, I have been working hard with councillors, residents and the bidding groups themselves to lobby in favour of these projects.
A free school is an all-ability, state-funded school set up in response to parental demand. They can be established by a wide range of bidders, including charities, universities, businesses, educational groups, teachers and even groups of parents.
One of the schools announced this week will be in South Swindon. It will be run by the Diocese of Bristol, but importantly will be open to all pupils, regardless of faith. The school, which will have a broad-based curriculum, is likely be in Wichelstowe, although a specific site has yet to be confirmed. The second school, to be known probably as the Great Western Academy, will be in North Swindon and run by New College. It will have a curriculum focused on business and enterprise, but again will offer all the usual subjects. Both schools will be open by 2017, although it may even be sooner.
Justin and I were both at the UTC on Monday for the historic announcement by Nick Gibb, the Schools Minister. As he said, to get through the very rigorous process does require a clear demonstration that there is parental demand for a free school. You have to demonstrate you have the right teaching staff and curriculum, and that the whole project is feasible. For both Swindon’s proposals to have made it through all the stages of this process means they are very high quality bids.
Over the coming years, demand for secondary school places in Swindon is set to increase rapidly, with Wichelstowe in the south, Tadpole Farm in the north, and a number of other developments. This was one of the key criteria the government considered in deciding the outcome. It shows that criticism of the free schools programme – that it leads to schools being built where there no demand – could not be further from the truth. This announcement is great news for Swindon, and yet another major investment for the town which is only possible because of the growing economy. We should all be very proud.
Finally, a word about my surgery on Friday. It’s at Asda in West Swindon from 1230 to 2pm. No appointment is necessary, but it would be better to phone the office first if you have a complex or long-running case, on 01793 533393.
(This article was originally posted in the Swindon Advertiser on 11th March 2015)