I welcome the principle of free schools. If parents or others wish to start a new school to fill a need in the provision of school places, that is fine by me.
I have been approached by a group who want to establish a new secondary school to cater for the western villages around Shinfield and Spencer’s Wood. There is more pressure on places at the Willink now, leaving a longer journey to schools in the east of the Borough.
The promoters think it would be a good idea to use the old buildings of Ryeish Green School. There are several problems with this approach. The first is that as I was told on every visit to that school, the buildings were below the desired standard when it was still a school. They have not been improved by closure and neglect since. The second is they cater for a larger school than the promoters have in mind, imposing bigger upkeep and running costs on the new school. The third is the current owner, the Borough Council, – on behalf of taxpayers – does not seem keen on allowing the use of the buildings in this way.
I was asked to check if the new government has taken powers to require a Council to make property available for a Free school. The answer is No. The Secretary of State for Education inherits a power to influence the use of the property at the time of school closure, which of course happened some time ago before the Free school idea was developed.
The best course of action seems to be for the promoters to negotiate with the Borough Council, as it would be best to proceed by agreement.