St Albans free school organisers reveal plans
ALBAN City School warmly welcomed parents and children into their Hatfield Road location earlier this week as part of a series of open days designed to show those interested what the school will be bringing to the community.
Set to open in 2012, the free school has received its fair share of criticism and so has been eager to meet with parents and other interested parties to outline what it stands for, what it will mean for the community and just how the former School of Law will accommodate 450 children.
The school, supported by Herts County Council, is being promoted by a group of educationalists and local parents. Leading the proposal is former headteacher of Aboyne Lodge, Linda Crawley.
It’s these strengths, they say, which help them understand the concerns and hopes that parents have about the school and what will drive them to provide a school that is “outstanding” in every sense.
Keen to address the fact that the school is on a busy road, Linda began her presentation to parents by outlining how it will be impossible for parents to drive to the school.
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It is hoped that, as with Aboyne Lodge, walking buses will be set up eventually but in the meantime they are looking at storage facilities for bikes and scooters.
There is, she puts it simply, nowhere to park at the school and nobody will be allowed to come on site to drop off children.
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It’s a key issue and one that the school is determined to highlight from the start – if parents have difficulties with this, they will have to look at another school.
As a free school, Alban City School will be both “different and similar” to those schools in the district.
It will operate the same admissions policy as others, have the same term dates and teach the National Curriculum – with a particular focus on the creative elements of the curriculum.
The difference will be that it receives its funding directly from the Department for Education.
Discussions about the school day emerged during the open day and the group admited they are open to suggestions about breakfast clubs, after-school clubs and even plans to open the school during the summer holidays.
Throughout the talk, parents asked their own questions and Linda says such interaction will underline the development of the school from this point.
She tells parents: “We don’t want to say that this is what we are going to do, we want to hear from you. The first parents into this school will have a lot of say in how things are going to pan out. That’s how we want it to be.”
A tour around the labyrinthine building reveals just how much space the group has to play with – large classrooms, a library, a hall, a play area and technology room are all planned.
And while it’s an empty shell at present, work is set to start on the interior in the early months of 2012 with a focus on completing the downstairs area by September 2012.
Suggestions that children would be forced to walk to Bernards Heath for outdoor play are dismissed by the school as are suggestions they were ever seeking to take land from the museum.
Playground space at the school is limited but its hopes to demolish the existing Pemberton Building, built around 1880 and formerly a board school, to make way for a larger playground with grass and potentially some trees, are very real.
If they are not successful, they could, they say, be forced to pay to maintain the building.
Linda’s experience and that of the 17 steering group members will form an essential part of the building’s progression, as they strive to make it a place children and parents want to be a part of.
It speaks volumes that those gathered to assist with the question and answer sessions at the popular open days have either worked with Linda before or have or had children at Aboyne Lodge.
They are, they tell me, inspired by the school’s promise for children and their parents.
What’s most remarkable is that all of them are doing this for free. They are volunteers working to provide a much-needed school for the city centre and quite a few already have children at schools they are very happy with. They are not motivated by personal gain.
Janice Graham, who worked with Linda at Aboyne Lodge and is part of the steering group, said: “It’s going to be a family school. When people walk into this school, we want them to think ‘this is my school’.”
An idea echoed in the school’s literature: “Children, their happiness, well-being and achievement, are the heartbeat of our school”.
The school, although inundated with interest, is keen to seek support for its formal consultation.
To take part, visit: http://v.gd/consult or call 0300 121 4034.
For more information visit www.albancityschool.org.uk. The closing date for this is Wednesday, December 21. The next open day is Thursday, December 8.