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Been offered brand new free school or last choice

(454 Posts)
Lazymama2 Wed 16-Apr-14 16:35:03

We're not sure what to do as have been offered a place at a brand new school which is with walking distance but has not been 'fitted out' yet (buildings are there). There is very little concrete info on term dates, start and finish times, curriculum and obviously no past performance on which to base a decision. Also no older kids to look up to. Other school is our last choice and has improved from satisfactory to good. DH does not want Dd to go to this school and would prefer private. I, on the other hand, quite like idea of a brand new school.

Thoughts/ideas anyone?

PS please dont turn this into a debate of state vs. private as I believe every parent does what is best for thier child/family circumstances and im not for/against one or the other.

TheNewBrown Thu 17-Apr-14 11:07:13


It sounds like I am in a similar, albeit slightly more desirable, situation than you and JuniorJones. I was offered a place at Whitehall Park school and (like the OP) my 6th choice school by Islington.

Where I think I differ from you is that through talking to the people setting up the free school, meeting the headteacher and visiting the school the same group set up last year in Balham I have confidence that they are going to set up an excellent school and am excited by the prospect of my children going there.

As such, I anticipate turning down the offer of my 6th place 'Islington' school and accepting my offer at the Free School. I imagine there are a number of people in the area who will make a similar choice which will free up some places at Hargrave Park, Duncombe, Ashmount (although realistically not Coleridge) so that people in your situation without a place currently will probably be allocated a place at one of those schools after the deadline for accepting offers has passed in a couple of weeks.

It may not be a 'choice' in any meaningful sense of the word but it demonstrates that the local residents who had the foresight to campaign for getting a new school built in the 'black hole' created by Ashmount moving to Crouch Hill benefits everyone locally (whether they want to go to the new school or whether they prefer to go to one of the existing schools).

Totalshambles Thu 17-Apr-14 11:34:51

I agree that there is a black hole and I support a community initiative to fill it but I have a major problem with the fact that there was a need to try and plug a gap independently. There could have been a solution involving bulge classes within existing schools - or through making a policy decision not to move the ashmount catchment when the school moved.

I'm sure you are right that duncombe and hargrave park will end up with some spaces for those on the waiting - in my opinion those are also way off the mark and I can see how parents desperate for the least worst option would choose the free school over them. It's insane that in a civilised society parents should be faced with having to pick the least worst option for their children (or remortgage to pay for private education!).

TheNewBrown Thu 17-Apr-14 11:51:44

I looked round both Duncombe and Hargrave Park and thought both were quite good. Also they both easily outperform Ashmount in the latest Primary School league tables I could find, so I wouldn't write them off.

When I spoke to them both the Duncombe and Hargrave Park headteachers were very anti-bulge classes although the Hargrave Park headteacher said they were probably going to have another half bulge class this year (I don't know if they have allocated 30 or 45 places at this stage?)

nlondondad Thu 17-Apr-14 11:57:20

A comment from Islington admissions this morning:

"we know that there will be significant churn over the coming months. The number of parents without an offer of one of their preferences is similar to last year on offer day. The council will have a clearer picture when it receives confirmation from parents that they are either accepting or declining the offer made. By the end of last year’s process, only 5 parents across the borough were not offered one of their original preferences (none in the N19 area) out of over 2000 applications.

(The five remaining parents were allocated to schools not on their original preference list)"

I hope this is helpful.

Other than that:

I am in agreement with Totalshambles views: Islington is having to work with one arm behind its back, as its not allowed to set up any new schools itself, and the whole thing so polarised and political that its stopping sensible thinking and planning from taking place. (There is an argument for a properly planned and integrated mixed use of the old Ashmount site, but no space for this argument to take place in, as the only people who could deliver on this - and be pressured to do so through the democratic process -are the council)

But they do need to improve comms with parents

Juniorjones Thu 17-Apr-14 13:52:38

As we don't have the luxury of choice we will also be taking up the place at Whitehall Park and I'm really happy to do so. Like @newbrown I have been impressed with the people I've spoken to there including the head mistress and think there is an exciting opportunity to shape a new school in our local community. Also the fact that they successfully run other schools is reassuring - it isn't a random collection of people with no experience in education.

The politics of whether it should have been set up by the council or a private company is now a little irrelevant to parents faced with no other school place and a council who refuse to acknowledge that moving Ashmount would create a problem in the area surrounding the old ashmount site.

nlondondad Thu 17-Apr-14 14:29:21

@Junior Jones

I really think you need to investigate Bellevue Ltd a bit more thoroughly; but then its your children you intend to entrust to their care; also if you read my last post with the comment from Islington admissions you will see that assuming that you will not have a choice to make, is hopefully rather premature.

Obviously you will make the choice you believe best.

I am not sure how irrelevant the politics is. Its the politics that are delaying the Minister's announcement about the site. Until we know more about that we still do not know where the children will be taught in the first year. (That is, if the site divided as the Minister seems to propose, AND the school building is to be demolished where do the portocabins go?)

But as time passes there will be more information, I suppose.....

TheNewBrown Thu 17-Apr-14 14:36:57


You say "Islington is having to work with one arm behind its back, as its not allowed to set up any new schools itself, and the whole thing so polarised and political that its stopping sensible thinking and planning from taking place"

As far as I recall both yourself (in your capacity as a governor of a 'competing' local school) and Islington have vociferously maintained for the last couple of years that there would be no shortage of places in this area and no additional schools were needed. So if the planning had been left to the council, rather than the much needed additional school places the local community has fought tooth and nail to get, we would have lots of additional housing with nowhere for the children living in that housing to go to school.

Totalshambles Thu 17-Apr-14 20:11:15

In relation fo going with the free school, feeling happy with the information available and the personnel is such a personal thing. I remember at one of their meetings, the head being asked by someone why they should choose to send their child to that school. Her answer was to acknowledge that it 'was a leap of faith' and 'involved placing your trust in her(sic)'. And that is true. There is little more than that when it comes to a school that doesn't exist, whose staff you can't meet, which as yet has no curriculum, whose facilities you can't see etc etc. For some of those parents (JuniorJones and newbrown included I guess) they will have felt that yes, they could take that leap and place that trust. It just comes down to a personal vibe I suppose. It wasn't working for me and I can't take that leap or place the trust. It's tough when pretty much the only thing you have to go on is the word of someone you don't know. It will work for some and not others. For me it didn't and I can say with absolute certainty I will not be sending my child there. But I do not mean in any way to criticise the decisions of others who are on board with it. As I have said, I wish it will. And also it is a decision which comes down to little more than whether you click with/get a good vibe from/however you want to phrase it the people running the show. If yes great, if no, it's not so great!

Lazymama2 Fri 18-Apr-14 10:40:00

Ive been reading all comments with interest. It turns out im not in the same area as you, im in maidenhead but its still Bellevue setting up the school. I just feel ive been told lots of things but little of substance, the funding agreement by DfE hasnt been signed yet. Dont know about sports, after school clubs. Im told there will be a canteen. Also only 22 of 28 places have been allocated. And we can still opt for our back up choice. What is the majority of parents do this and theres only a few kids in the class? Will the school still be viable? If not am i left with my 6th choice at which people recoil in horror or nothing at all? Very confused.

nlondondad Fri 18-Apr-14 14:43:52


You sum up my feelings about Bellevue, lots of promises, but really weak on the detail of how these promises are to be fulfilled. In Islington their front man is a guy called Tom Legge, a very skilful performer but his back ground is in PR not education at all...

They quote their experience of running school already but its of running selective fee paying schools, mostly in Switzerland and I am not sure how transferable their experience is. Apart from anything else I find their claim to provide in their Free Schools "private education without the price tag" in financial terms alone too good to be true. The private primary they run has fees of 14, 000 a year which suggests a funding rate of about two and a half times per pupil compared to a state school, or what they will get from the DfE per pupil in a Free School.

The one Free School they have opened, in Balham, although it opened lasy autumn still has building works going on, -its a building conversion - and had no kitchen (so no school meals) until last February. My feeling was that they were distinctly over optimistic as to building timescales in that case.

There is a relevant article about the Whitehall Park School in the standard - cant seem to cut and paste the link so just google "evening standard Whitehall Park" and you should see it.

nlondondad Fri 18-Apr-14 14:48:26

here is the link to the evening standard article.

sunshinysummer Fri 18-Apr-14 22:34:11

Have you got on to waiting lists for other local schools? I am assuming you other option at the moment is S L but have you put yourself on the waiting list at other rbwm schools? There is usually some movement when places are declined.

X3512 Fri 18-Apr-14 22:49:19

It might be worth considering Holyport. From the website it appears they allocated 60 places including 1 divert which suggests everyone who wanted a place got one. So if you were added to the waiting list you might have a good chance.
They have since had RI from OFSTED so some parents might turn the place down but actually the Holyport OFSTED reads well in that they have suffered from a high turnover in head teachers for a few years but now have a very strong head in place and results are on the up.

Lazymama2 Sun 20-Apr-14 12:22:15

Sunshiny I have been waiting for the letter from RBWM and it still hasnt arrived to be put on the waiting lists!!! I will be calling them first thing on Tuesday. Unfortunately it looks like most schools are oversubscribed but still intend going on waiting lists of other 4 schools.

Other school is actually Larchfield and its now a good school but the majority of people still give me funny looks when I mention it. Ive had the comment that they'd rather remorgage and send private than send there! and these kinds of attitudes are putting me off. Dont know if you know different?

X3512 I hadnt even considered Holyport to be honest as its in the wrong direction. I will have to drop both kids off at school/nursery and then head up to the M40 so really want to avoid travelling all around Maidenhead in the mornings.

Nlondondad - I had come across the article before and had previously only skim read it but now read it properly and also the comment at the bottom which answers my comment about viability.

I dont think Ive coe across Tom Legge but have met Steve Wade the UK Schools Director and he came across as very credible. What was not so credible was the so called 'Project Manager' who was fresh out of university and didnt have a clue (when asked about facilities etc for the new school) and had to keep on referring back to Steve.

Im desperatley wating for the Ofsted inspection on Rutherford House as I think this will help us make a decsion as it seems like Braywick will replicate everything that has been done there.

allyfe Sun 20-Apr-14 16:36:20

I don't know about the school organisation of the schools in question. We are in a Harris Academy area. Essentially free schools and academies are the same thing (except potentially their history). The Harris consortium worries me. In my area there is a Harris free school that is opening this year, and we another one we are thinking of sending our daughter to. There was also a new school opened in this area about 7 years ago. That was in the dim and distant past when the LA opened new primary schools. However, it is an excellent school. I know that the parents who went when it started are really happy with it. I think that a new school is a risk. But any new school also has the potential to be an excellent school. We are near a solid 'good' school, but this has less potential to be excellent in my view. However it has less chance of being satisfactory too.

That said, I am looking into the people who are running the school. I do want to know how effective and reliable they might be.

The point of all that was I wouldn't (and am not) automatically discounting the free school. Like any academy/free school, they need investigation and consideration.

Juniorjones Mon 21-Apr-14 14:13:22

I contacted Tom Legge of Bellevue based upon some of the negative comments about the organisation made on this thread by @nlondondad and he is happy to have anyone that has been offered a place at either of their free schools contact him directly to discuss concerns. If you want his address just PM me. Alternatively you can contact the head of Whitehall Park directly if you have been offered a place (her contact details are on the offer letter).

@nlondondad, In terms of your helpful suggestion that we should investigate Bellevue further before 'entrusting them with my child's education', do you really think we would be considering a place at this school if we hadn't already done that? Yes of course any new school is a risk but as allyfe said it could also be excellent and as you have fanatically objected to this free school from the very beginning (way before Bellevue were involved) you can hardly be thought of as unbiased in your assessment of the education that will be offered there.

X3512 Mon 21-Apr-14 15:27:02

Sorry, I mentioned Holyport because it is in the same area as the free school.

larchfield -I wouldn't be worried at all! It is a very good school. check out their data dashboard

Ok I know this is quite a crude measure but it does give an indication hove how good it is. They have a great head and good OFSTEd report from 2012. Many mumsnetters would be thrilled with such a school!

People in the area are snobby about it because it used to have quite a poor reputation and the catchment area is a council estate. That would not put me off.

People in the area used to say similar things about Lowbrook and look how well that school is doing!

jakecat Mon 21-Apr-14 20:08:09

Lazymama - just a quick point on viability. Check with Bellevue but at one of the opening evenings for prospective parents for Whitehall Park school they were able to be quite specific about the number of children they would need to take up places and remain viable, so hopefully they would be able to give you further detail on this.

nlondondad Mon 21-Apr-14 22:57:11


Good advice. As a matter of interest how many did they say for Whitehall Park?

(note by the way that Braywick is a one form entry - 28 child intake school whereas Whitehall Park is 56, so one would need to compare like with like as Braywick only needs half the number of children therefore.)


You have your opinion, clearly, as have I, but unlike you I do not feel the need to call someone a "fanatic" because they disagree with me.

But anyway the advice to check out any Free School's proposer surely remains valid - and anyway it is what the OP

TheNewBrown Tue 22-Apr-14 23:40:44

A quote springs to mind:

"A zealot can't change his mind. A fanatic can't change his mind and won't change the subject." —Winston Churchill


juztaparent Thu 24-Apr-14 16:43:20

Having recently been to the latest meeting at whitehallpark school we met the excellent head teacher and 2 newly appointed deputy head teachers. The were excellent both in credentials and enthusiasm. We also met the board of community governors, a barrister, banker, entrepreneur and from the medical profession. Very impressive both in their statements and reasons for joining the school/ visions for the school.
Yes it looks like the school will only be on half the Ashmount site as proposed by Islington. But there will also most likely be a new building of up to 4 floors which will only occupy a small footprint leaving ample recreation space,it was revealed. Not like the old spread out existing build.
The set up is akin to a private school. (The same trust runs Norfolk House Primary in Muswell Hill), we were assured the new school would aim to match those private school standards as well as the best from the public sector.
Given the level of enthusiasm, the teaching qualifications on show and the established schools the trust already run, we gained confidence in this new venture. We were promised 'outstanding' levels from the outset.
With our child being offered the best of public and private education for
free, we are finding it hard not to accept and we are in a position of be already offered our 2nd choice school from Islington council.
It is definitely not a sixth choice school. My impression is that it will be vastly oversubscribed once established and news gets out.
Not all free schools are the same as is the case with private and public sector schools.

nlondondad Thu 24-Apr-14 17:39:15

Interestingly well briefed response from someone, who has never been on mumsnet, or posted on mumsnet, before now..... So a first posting, in fact.

juztaparent Thu 24-Apr-14 19:50:12

Yet, still a parent who has been offered a place at Whitehallpark and before making a final decision, have been looking around to see what other parents views are before making up my mind. Well briefed because I asked questions - its important that I make the right decision for my child.
Now I have 2 posts. smile

nlondondad Thu 24-Apr-14 22:43:18

well congratulations on your second post! But for someone who has joined mumsnet with an inquiring mind, you seem to have been able to reach a final decision with dispatch. The trouble is, you seem to be well briefed, by your own account, by Bellevue Ltd who as part of " introducing the values of the private sector" appear to have brought in "let the buyer beware" These are the people, after all, who have just been censured for false advertising by the Advertising Standards Agency......

And you have been mislead.

To take a couple of clear points:-

1.The proposal to split the site in two is not Islington's but the Ministers. That matters because Bellevue Ltd are seeking to make a party political issue out of it by blaming "Labour Islington" for an idea (the split) put forward by a Conservative Minister. But of course the Minister has yet to make a final decision on the site, which might explain why Bellevue Ltd are trying to make a party political issue out of the decision to split.

2. you write

"there will most likely be a new building of up to 4 floors which will only occupy a small footprint leaving ample recreation space, it was revealed. Not like the old spread out existing build."

But the existing build IS four stories high. As anyone can see by walking along Hornsey Lane. I find it strange, as you are local, that you do not know this.

juztaparent Thu 24-Apr-14 23:40:26

Perhaps you may consider reading peoples posts properly before you let your enthusiasm to denigrate this school take over. I never said that the existing building was not 4 storey. The current proposal will have a more compact layout. It was 'the most likely outcome' I was told at the meeting, there will still be enough recreational space.
The minimum site 50% will be 4000m2 the building footprint will be around 800m2. That was one of the options. The temporary accommodation will be placed on the part of the site allocated for housing whilst the new school is constructed.
Most of the information was received from the new head teacher with a proven track record in different school environments, not Belvue ltd. She stated that the minimum proposed school would be larger than some schools in Islington and larger than her current school. It's only a 2 form entry school and does not need to be huge. Some grammar school buildings are dumps, the building itself is not my most important criteria.
The most important credentials for me were the quality of the teaching staff and I was impressed. The curriculum and teaching methods discussed, were also very favorable, very thoroughly thought out.
I have visited Norfolk house primary school its a great school, I cant afford it. I know the Montessori House Nursery school in Muswell Hill is excellent. Other parents I met have visited Rutherford House school, the other free school run by the trust and commented very favorably, that shows there is a proven track record.
No I have not made up my mind yet, I was interested in other parents views, but your points are totally irrelevant to me as a parent.

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