JUST weeks after a North East church set out its intention to open a free school in the region, organisers say they have been overwhelmed by demand for places.
Jesmond Parish Church in Newcastle announced in December its proposal to open a 700-place school in the city, which would be called Clayton Academy.
Last night, those behind the bid said they had enough “sign-ups” to leave only eight spaces available for children entering the reception class, adding that parents of more than 325 children had expressed an interest.
Rev Jonathan Pryke, executive minister of Jesmond Parish Church and a trustee of the Jesmond Trust, said: “We are delighted with the response so far, which is a strong indication that what we are offering has a wide appeal to parents in Tyneside.
“We believe there is a place for an independent school which is absolutely free for parents, but offers high standards and life skills.
“We are keen to get more feedback from as many parents as possible with children of the right ages, so that we can submit a strong bid before the deadline later in February.
“We’ve had a vision for Christian education for a long time and the coalition Government want more choice in education.
“What we want to do is provide parents on Tyneside with more choice in quality education.”
If given the go-ahead by the Department for Education, Clayton Academy would open in September 2013 with a reception class and a Year 7 class, for 10 and 11-year-olds.
There would be 25 children in a class, and two classes in both year groups. The academy would then grow each year until it was a “through-school” offering education for pupils from reception to sixth form.
The proposal includes teaching Mandarin Chinese alongside the classics and modern languages, as well as the traditional subjects all schools offer.
It also aims to offer vocational subjects, technology, music and sport.
Clayton Academy would be open to all students within reach of Newcastle, of any faith or none, and teaching would be tailored to meet different abilities. The organisers are yet to find a suitable location for the school. They had considered the old La Sagesse buildings in Jesmond, but current owner, former Newcastle United chairman Freddy Shepherd, said he was “not interested” in selling the site to the church.
The introduction of a school in the Jesmond area could put them in potential conflict with three nearby private schools, the Royal Grammar School, Church High and Central Newcastle High School.
Free schools are one of the flagship policies of the education secretary, Michael Gove.
They are separate from local authority control and are funded directly by the Government. They can set their own curriculum, hours, admissions and recruitment policies.
Parents wishing to find out more, or want to express an interest in a place, can visit the website www.claytonacademy. org.uk
What we want to do is provide parents on Tyneside with more choice in quality education