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Brand new free secondary school opening with no building

(22 Posts)
Hologram17 Sat 05-May-18 01:43:04

Hi, did anyone send their child to a brand new secondary that hadn't been built yet? What was your experience of this positive and negative? Was your child disadvantaged by being the oldest in the school from the start. Do you feel your child missed out on anything? Was there any temporary accommodation for a short while and did you feel that this was adequate? Thank you.

OP’s posts: |
Dontblameitontheboogie Sat 05-May-18 03:18:44

Afraid I can't help, OP but I wish you the best of luck. We were in a similar situation (and we knew this was the only school our DC would be allocated) and decided to go private rather than face the uncertainty, but that's not to say the new school wouldn't be wonderful. I do know some very lovely local children who will be going to the brand new school.

I also have friends whose children were the first to go to a different brand new school in the area (church school). They are happy-ish, although the general consensus seems to be that the children aren't pushed at all, no homework and no extracurricular activities. That's all probably specific to the individual school though.

mathanxiety Sat 05-May-18 03:35:28

I went to a school that was in the process of converting from private to state (in Ireland) way back in the late 70s. Mine was the first year with boys, and there was a completely new administration.

It was a sort of a hybrid, with the old school converting to new uniforms and teachers, and the new school grafted on, so not quite your situation.

As far as physical plant went, when I started there was an existing building, several prefabs and a building site. I spent the first year in a prefab, which wasn't ideal but we knew it was temporary. We students stayed in the prefab for all our classes and the teachers moved around. It was hard on the teachers as they had to walk quite a distance from class to class in all weathers, and class didn't always start on time as a result. We were left in the prefab unsupervised between class periods therefore, and there was a bit of mischief. We only left the prefab for Home Economics and PE.

There were tennis courts/outdoor basketball courts inherited from the old school, and a hockey pitch. In due course a soccer field was added.

I don't think it was a disadvantage. The new building still smelled of paint at the start of my second year, though the metalwork room and tech drawing lab were only equipped the following year. Once we were in the new building the students moved from room to room for classes, which was a far better arrangement than sitting in the prefabs almost all day every day.

The teachers were mostly new hires fresh out of university, and they all had honours degrees in their subjects and honours in their H.Dip (Irish secondary school teacher qualification). Expectations were high. Many of us did extremely well.

Hologram17 Sat 05-May-18 19:05:32

Thanks for your replies. Yes even though the school sounds great on paper if there was a good alternative option that was established I would take it too but am unable to do private school. I just imagine that it will take them a while to find their fit and not sure if I want my child to be a guinea pig even though there seem to be a lot of opportunities available to them!

You have also reminded me of the fact that they will be doing a lot of travelling to offsite activities. Perhaps I am more bothered about the upheaval then my daughter would be. You sound like your experience was a pretty good one. Although not sure about the unsupervised bit! ;-)

OP’s posts: |
user1471530109 Sat 05-May-18 19:09:19

I have a friend whose 2dc go to such a school (primary though). Her eldest is the first year through. The mum has also become a governor.
She thinks the school is brilliant! DC seem very happy. Think it's been a v successful school.
I'd certainly consider it. Think a lot depends on the new head, staff and the cohort tbh.

mathanxiety Sat 05-May-18 20:48:28

a lot depends on the new head, staff and the cohort tbh.

I think that is so true.

When my DD1 was about to enter 6th grade (in the US) in a parish K-8th grade school the local junior highs converted to middle schools, taking in 6th to 8th graders, so three years for the middle school cycle. We were tempted to take DD out of the parish school and go public because the facilities were amazing - fab science labs, gyms, art facilities, etc. We decided to keep her in the parish k-8 school because her classmates were a great bunch of people, the k-8 offered great leadership opportunities to the kids in years 6-8, and it was a lot smaller than the big middle schools. Plus she was doing very well academically and we had no worries about her ability or motivation. I think she would have thrived in either place tbh, but we knew what we were dealing with in the parish school whereas the new middle school concept was an unknown.

I seriously considered sending DD4 to the middle school many years later and I still sort of wish I had bitten the bullet and done it. Her female classmates were a cliquey bunch and she was struggling much more in maths than the teachers realised or bothered to assess. She would have got the intervention she needed in the middle school.

What I heard from people I knew who went to the middle school in its first year was that there were teething pains - the administration had not anticipated the social or academic needs of a sizeable cohort of troubled 6th graders who were funneled through from two of the public elementary schools that had had high admin turnover in the previous years (six principals in 8 years for one particular elementary school) with the resultant lack of continuity and low teacher morale not taken adequately into account. Students who had experienced quite a it of upheaval in their previous educational environment were a bit more disengaged than anticipated, and had suffered academically too.

Additionally, students from the piss poor major city school system next door were increasingly moving to the suburb as their parents wanted to get them into better schools, but they were much further behind their peers on arrival than the middle schools were equipped to handle.

Individual circumstances, I know...

But imo the caliber of the administration team is very important.

Bekabeech Sat 05-May-18 22:58:03

Near to me is a school that opened like this - in porta cabins in a car park. It's in it's 3rd year and due to move into its new buildings in the Autumn. It has worked really well, and I'd have been happy for any of my children to have gone there.
But it is a very different experience for the first few years and they can do things that other years won't have the opportunity to do.

OlennasWimple Sat 05-May-18 23:06:27

Not quite the same either, but my DC have been at a school that had a major renovation project, necessitating them moving into temporary accomodation for a few years.

Obviously there weren't the same issues about establishing school identity and ethos, but there were definite teething problems to work through regarding the logistics of the school day and far from ideal outside space. It took a good few months to settle down, and some children coped better with the changes than others.

RandomMess Sat 05-May-18 23:16:04

@Bekabeech school in Surrey?? Or perhaps there are many schools in the same situation!

Bekabeech Sun 06-May-18 08:23:06

In Surrey. Although there is more than one new school in Surrey - and only one I know that has such brilliant new buildings.

lifeissobusy Sun 06-May-18 13:39:57

My DD started year 7 at a new free school. The temporary building only started being installed in June. By September the buildings were in and the school was open. My DD has been really happy there and the school has been fantastic. It does depend on Head Teacher, Teachers and cohort. Pro's:- due to being the first year the teachers got to know the children really well. No older children to intimate the year 7. They get to help structure the school starting from year 7. Cons:- due to it being a new school the subjects on offer are the basic subjects for the first few years. It may take time to get building permission for the new building. Afterschool activities are also not as extensive as established secondary schools due to low teacher numbers.

Toomanycats99 Sun 06-May-18 13:51:43

There is a new academy opening up near us this September run by a well know chain. Potentially it is great especially for science - links with a leading medical research facility etc. However for me the downsides of being the first year were too much. Temporary buildings for first year, many teachers being shipped in from other schools. Always being the oldest year (I think part of secondary so going back to the bottom!) lack of extra curricular, pe off site. I decided against it for dd1.

Th catchment area was relatively big this year so assuming many felt the same -sure in 2/3 years it will be great and we will have missed our chance for dd2 to get in under the sibling rule and live too far away!

swampytiggaa Sun 06-May-18 14:02:42

Free school by us opened 5 years ago. They are finally getting their school building built this year.

In the meantime they have had at least 3 headteachers and 2 temporary premises. 2 ofsted inspections of poor then inadequate. None of last years year 11 pupils sat a gcse.

School has now been taken over by the academy trust that runs the secondary school that they slated. So all of the governors have resigned.

Hope you have a better experience. Just glad I didn’t put my son in when they were promising the earth...

bacdotuk Mon 07-May-18 19:54:32

My DD started in opening year of a new free school which is few years old and still in temporary. Permanent site is in the pipeline, but taking a lot longer than it should have done.

It's been a positive experience for us and DD loves school. It's got a great head and deputies, and the other staff are very keen and positive about everything, which is what makes it. It's a bit smaller than other schools locally and classes are 25. They're all known by the teachers really well. My older DS went to a different school and comparing the two, DD is a bigger fish in a smaller pond which has been good for her confidence.

One thing I notice. Older DS didn't take part in much sports at his school, even though he loved sport at primary, because he didn't make the teams, there was too much competition, whereas at the new school they might not win so many leagues but more of them get to participate in teams. That's because it's smaller, so a smaller pool of kids to select from, which I think is great for the ones that love sport but don't play to elite level. DD has also done a lot of clubs at the new school - I think maybe it's easier when there aren't lots of "been there done that" older kids around to be scornful of the year 7s.

I don't think she's missed out on anything. They don't have much indoor pe space, but they've got outdoor space and use sports facilities nearby or at other schools, so it isn't something that's bothered her. I think she'll have lots of happy memories - they've really made them feel special, and all the other parents I've met are really happy with it too.

yomellamoHelly Mon 07-May-18 20:00:12

There was one like this in our town. Didn't send ds there because I didn't trust it. They had no staff, no classrooms set-up and no track record. Just lots of hopes and plans. I felt they were promising too much when they hadn't even tested whether it was feasible. (More than other local secondary schools.) 3 years later they're still in porta-cabins though work on the acutal buildings is on-going and parents seem happy with it and Ofsted has rated it good. No track record in exams yet.

bacdotuk Mon 07-May-18 20:01:00

Something else to add is that with my older DS I found he didn't get the most experienced senior teachers until he was starting his GCSEs. It was like they didn't put so much effort into the Key stage 3 yeargroups because they were less important. But at the free school my DD's yeargroup was important from day 1 and got taught mostly by heads of subjects because they were recruited first.

Hologram17 Sat 12-May-18 12:23:08

Thanks all, lots to think about good and bad.

Having given it some thought I don't think i'm too worried about her being the oldest year in the school for most of her entire secondary school life and my daughter seems to like that idea. There is a plan to bring in older children from the linked well established grammar school to help out/mentor so there will be a small amount of mixing with older children but obviously won't be the same. They also have employed a team to come in and run the after school activities so finding staff to run clubs shouldn't be an issue. Agree that the children will be given the chance to be involved in more activities as there will be less children to choose from.

I hear free school teachers don't need to be qualified though?...and there's no getting away from the fact that they will be guinea pigs!

Plus if they don't get enough pupils what happens with the funding agreement, where will pupils go to school once they have to vacate the temporary building and the permanent building isn't ready yet...the school said if this happens they will find an alternative location

When I think about the worst that could happen with a new school I still wonder if the risk is too high but I guess I have some more time to mull it over

OP’s posts: |
bacdotuk Sat 12-May-18 18:00:23

free school teachers don't need to be qualified though?
That's true for any academy school, not just free schools, and it's also true for independent schools, which employ lots of teachers without Qualified Teacher Status - one of my friends is an artist who teaches art part-time in an independent school, and I know someone else who taught computer science in an independent school as a part-time job while she was studying for her computer science degree! If you're worried about it, ask the school what it's policy is. Ours has a statement on its website saying it only employs qualified teachers, and all the teachers' qualifications are listed with their names on the website too so we would easily be able to see if any of them didn't have QTS.

bacdotuk Sat 12-May-18 18:08:03

I still wonder if the risk is too high

If you love the school, chances are others will too and it will fill up with the sort of families who are good at weighing up that sort of risk. I know a parent at ours who spent an hour personally grilling the head before she put her trust in him, but she's the school's biggest fan now. There are also quite a few parents who are teachers themselves which I always think is a good sign. You really need to look closely at the leadership team and think to yourself "if I was a teacher would I want to work for them?" They need to be inspiring and credible enough to attract good staff as well as parents.

FogCutter Tue 15-May-18 02:10:18

We had some free schools open nearby. One was housed in temporary accommodation for 3 years, in an old suite of offices above a take away. No outside space. Kids had to be walked to the park and back every day. Now they are in an old school building which they have converted.

The first year's intake was 12 kids, only 2 boys. So some friendship issues. And some of what was promised to parents (links with a well known local establishment, after school clubs etc) have not materialised.

School seems to be doing well now (oftsted rated good) but I would not have been happy to have my child there for so long in substandard accommodation or in that year group. Glad we went for a 'tried and tested' school instead.

Stickerrocks Tue 15-May-18 06:53:02

We've had a couple of Studio schools open within a 20 mile radius over the last 5 years. They are both due to close next year, forcing the DC to go back to established schools, because they failed to attract enough pupils. They only offered a limited range of courses due to a relatively low uptake. I would be very wary at secondary school level.

bacdotuk Tue 15-May-18 08:08:25

If the OP's free school is a mainstream secondary it would be daft to worry about issues with studio schools. Most of their undersubscription problems are due to them recruiting students at 14+. Other local schools haven't exactly been encouraging their students to make the switch as they would lose the funds. Also, Studio Schools do have a narrow curriculum by design, that's the point of them. UTCs have similar issues.

There are 3 mainstream secondary free schools in my area and they all seem to be doing well.

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