I've stayed out of the Michaela Free School debate so far due to a short break from blogging and because I felt that I didn't have enough solid information to make an informed post. At present, it's not clear where the proposed school would be situated or whether any funding has been agreed for the proposed opening in 2012. Yesterday, however, I wrote a long post on the protest concerning the retention of the Shelley site (something that was raised at the last KOV meeting and which I've been tracking closely), which unfortunately has not yet received any comments, except to ask my views on the Michaela Free School!! So...
A representative from Michaela emailed me in May, requesting that I publicise the Michaela Free School website and noted that an open day would take place on the 21st May, which I had hoped to attend. Unfortunately, the open day was cancelled at the last minute on 20th May, and I've not spotted a public meeting since. Consequently, I was delighted to note that Kennington Association have seized the mantle and agreed to hold a public meeting to discuss the proposal on Monday (18th July), 7pm at Ethelred Estate Community Youth Club, 7 Lollard Street, SE11 6QH. After that, Lurking about SE11 hopes to have enough information to put forward a reasoned response.
In the mean time, many of the arguments for the retention of the Shelley site can be marshalled for the Michaela Free School, mostly concerning the secondary school aged population projection within the next few years. At present, Lambeth is unable to send all students that live within the Borough to Lambeth secondary schools, and has to ship them out of the Borough for secondary education. In addition, the demand for secondary education will increase on account of the building due to take place on the VNEB developments, especially because the Vauxhall (and thus Lambeth) developments appear to being approved faster than the Wandsworth developments. Even worse, the VNEB proposals thus far do not appear to have accounted for a secondary school, so there is a clear argument (although perhaps the case is equally strong for Wandsworth) that additional secondary school places be provided for local students. It's not clear (and seems unlikely) that the proposed Michaela School would have capacity for all of the additional students required across Lambeth (or Wandsworth), so it may be necessary for the council or free school trust to open one large new school or two/three smaller new schools. Alternatively, (unless the LEA wishes to continue to send its pupils outside of the borough), some inventive means to expand current schools would need to be found (which should not include eating up local Playground space!).
The reason the Michaela School appears to have become so contentious is on account of its founder, Katharine Birbalsingh. Birbalsingh made a speech at the October 2010 Conservative party conference about how she perceived the State to be failing to provide for the nation's children and to admit that she had voted Tory for the first time. Consequently, one can see how a slightly controversial start might have put some backs up in Lambeth, which is an entrenched Labour stronghold. That, I suspect, is most likely the reason that some local hackles appear to have risen.
There is a Guardian article, outlining some of her views on State schools, written earlier this year and you can find further information about her from a comprehensive Wikipedia article. Birbalsingh has written about 121 articles for the Telegraph (click "older entries" to read through the list), with the most recent article published today (just before Monday's meeting), on why she thinks middle class women on bikes (in Lambeth?) want to prevent working class children from receiving a good education. It seems a tad impolitic to raise local backs further, before people have had a chance to hear about the Michaela School proposals, but presumably she hopes people will hear the free school ideas with open minds despite an article that appears deliberately provocative. I am already wondering whether we're going to hear open and positive suggestions about Michaela free school from a diverse range of staff and parents or a Birbalsingh-only version of what Michaela Free School might look like. The two are potentially quite different, so it's worth listening closely...
FoDL : Beneath the water and the mud Monday 21 September, 6.45pm for 7.15pm start Durning Library, Kennington Lane, SE11 4HF - Part of Lambeth Heritage Festival
21 hours ago