Bilingual primary shows there is life left in free school initiative

Free schools have been taking a bit of a beating in recent weeks but the Guardian has a more positive report from the first state-funded English and Spanish-speaking primary…

…As its name suggests, the Bilingual Primary School does everything in two languages, making it Britain’s first state-funded English and Spanish-speaking primary – and an example of the innovation and diversity that the free schools programme initiated by Michael Gove has sought to unleash.

…when free schools have made the news recently, it has been for the wrong reasons…

But at the Bilingual Primary School, the political battles seem far away. There, nestled in temporary accommodation in the shadow of Brighton & Hove Albion’s Falmer stadium, the 140 pupils aged from four to seven get on with the business of doing everything in two languages.

“We have an unusual situation here, where the pupils, parents and staff have a shared vision,” says Gopal, a former school leader at the British Council’s school in Madrid and a Brighton native who was appointed principal after the school’s application was approved in 2011.

“The whole point of the project was to bring bilingual education to the UK,” says Marina Gutierrez, the chair of the board of governors and the driving force behind the school’s existence.

Gutierrez, from Brighton and a former Spanish teacher, was previously involved in an innovative effort to teach immersive Spanish to a small group of infants in the city. As the children grew older, the parents wanted a school that could continue their language education at the same level. Then came Gove’s 2010 announcement that groups could apply to open free schools.

“I think the feeling was, ‘at last’,” said Gutierrez, who set up a group of supporters and put in an application. Then a chance meeting with Gopal’s mother in a supermarket led to Gopal applying for the post of headteacher…

Despite the radical nature of its bilingual education, the school itself has stuck to conventional means: adopting the national curriculum and only hiring qualified teachers, despite being free not to.

Gutierrez says that was a deliberate decision given the school’s nature: “People would really have to believe in it, they really needed to have that reassurance that we were going to deliver. And the way to reassure people was by ensuring that we follow the national curriculum and we have qualified teachers.”

The school opened in 2012 with 64 pupils and was oversubscribed, despite going into the application process without parents even knowing where the school was going to be.

“We had no building. We had no headteacher to begin with. Just a dream, really, and our passion,” said Gutierrez.

And unlike some other free schools around the country, Gutierrez and Gopal say the new school attracted little opposition in its early days.

“If we were looking to set up a free school that wasn’t so different to what was already out there, then that might have set alarm bells off,” said Gutierrez. “But because what we were offering was something that was going to enrich what is currently available as an option for parents, I think people could see that.”

The group behind the school already has other ambitions – and is preparing an application to open another bilingual free school, this time in London…

More at:  Bilingual primary shows there is life left in free school initiative

Is this the type of innovative school that, as the article’s title suggests, means there is still life in the free school concept? Please give us your views in the comments or on twitter… 

Head of closing school which lost half of its staff in the last academic year complains to Ofsted over ‘requires improvement’ ruling
Primary school apologises for showing pupils horror film in classroom
Categories: Free Schools and Primary.

Let us know what you think...