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Pupils claim their place in history at new free school
Buy this photo » Some of the new Heyford Park Free School pupils. Pictures: OX61641 Jon Lewis
It has been more than 18 months in the planning, but the doors to North Oxfordshire’s first free school opened yesterday.
A total of 81 boys and girls stepped through the gates of Heyford Park Free School claiming a place in its history as its first pupils.
There were 20 four-year-olds starting in reception and 61 pupils in Year 7 – the first year of secondary school.
Pupils from Bicester had opted to travel to Upper Heyford to avoid going to Bicester Community College (BCC), which is in special measures.
One of those was 11-year-old Isabelle Kinsella-Miles. Her mum Kirsten Kinsella-Miles, of Bicester, said: “I only found out about Heyford Park by fluke as a lot of the mums had kept quiet as they knew there was only a certain amount of places.
“I have to admit I chose Heyford Park because it wasn’t BCC. I was willing to take the risk of it being a new school.
“As soon as the principal David Castles come in he won over so many parents.”
The £12m school aims eventually to take 840 children from age four to 19.
Julie Silvester, whose granddaughter Maisie, 11, started at the school , had also chosen the school in preference to the college.
She said: “I had reservations first of all that Maisie would be the oldest, but I thought she goes to athletic club and meets older people so does it really matter.”
She said the advantage of the school was that parents and carers were involved in decisions, including the uniform.
Principal David Castles said: “We had a really positive morning. We had our opening ceremony and gave out the school tie. It was just very positive.”
The school opened in temporary buildings while work to refurbish the former sports centre and officers’ mess takes place – it is expected to start this autumn Mr Castles, who took on the post last December, has been working behind the scenes to pull together the school’s curriculum and teaching teams.
He said: “It feels fantastic to see children excited to be here and parents happy the school is open. But also a sense of pride as we have worked with so many people, parents and local businesses to deliver an education plan people believe in. It’s the small school parents want where they feel the children are known and feel their views are listened to.”
The school day runs from 8am to 4pm which means children benefit from extra teaching. Mr Castles said: “By the time they have reached their GCSEs they will almost have the equivalent of an extra school year which is a huge amount.
“I hope that will drive up results.”
Free schools are state-funded schools that are set up by parent, teacher, community, business or charity groups in response to community needs.
They are subject to conventional government checks and performance measures but do not have to follow the national curriculum.
Oxfordshire County Council’s education boss Melinda Tilley said: “The county council has supported the introduction of free schools in Oxfordshire.
“It will be interesting to see how they fare and we wish them luck and trust they will maintain high standards.”
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