Government support for controversial school

PUBLISHED: 12:08 19 January 2011

The plan for a secondary Free School for village children has sparked fierce debate

The plan for a secondary Free School for village children has sparked fierce debate

Archant

A controversial plan to build a new secondary school in a village has been given the support of the Government.

On Friday, education minister Michael Gove approved a proposal for a Free School for pupils in Knebworth, Woolmer Green, Codicote, Oaklands and Datchworth.

The plan for the community run school, which could be built in one of the five villages, was made by the We Need A School group. The fourteen members, all parents from the villages, now intend to work up a business case for the scheme.

Chairman of the group, Juliet Pomerance of Westland Road, Knebworth said she was “delighted” at the news.

She said the school, which could accommodate up to 800 11 to 18-year-olds, was much needed for children in the villages.

“The school will solve serious problems with the provision of secondary education for our children. It will also strengthen the self-sufficiency and independence of our villages,” she said.

She added that the group aim to open the school by September 2013.

But the plan, first mooted on two possible green belt sites around Knebworth last year, has drawn fire from many residents in the village. An opposition group to the school in the village, Preserve Knebworth, argue that a secondary school would adversely change the nature of the community.

Spokesman for the group, Malcolm Davies said: “The group carried out our own survey and received back 200 responses from households in over 50 roads in Knebworth, Rabley Heath and Woolmer Green. Of those households 97 per cent were against building a secondary school. Their reasons were loss of village identity, loss of Green Belt and countryside fields, extra traffic, increase in accidents, infrastructure systems could not cope, wildlife would be destroyed, pollution, fear of growth of anti-social behaviour and crime, and concern that the school will generate further house building.”

On Monday Herts County Council gave its “wholehearted support” to the introduction of Free Schools in the county, which would be funded by central government directly, bypassing the authority.

Education portfolio holder, Richard Thake, said: “Although Free Schools will not come under local authority control, we feel that by embracing the policy we will be in a better position to influence its implementation and also better able to encourage national funding into Hertfordshire.”

John Harris, director of children, schools and families, said the authority is inviting people to come forward with proposals and will offer land and buildings to be used for schools.

“We want to provide practical assistance by helping to make sites or premises available for use as schools now that central government has removed a lot of the red tape surrounding school planning,” he said.


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