Wandsworth Free School In Admissions and Funding Controversy

Parents fight back against accusations of elitism

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The proposed Wandsworth free school, Bolingbroke Academy, has come under fire this weekend from campaigners dubbing it a ‘bankers’ free school’, which will exclude the poor.
 
Opponents, backed by the general trade union GMB, are concerned about which pupils will get access to the school as well as the cost of funding the £13 million purchase of the site for the premises, which will come from Wandsworth Council (although renovation and running costs will come from central government). They also argue that the school will provide an education for children of affluent parents, due an admissions criteria of taking pupils from 'feeder' schools.
 
Wandsworth Labour councillor Leonie Cooper has called it: “…
terribly exclusive … like creating a gated community. There is social apartheid going on. If they wanted to buy the site themselves it would be different. But people are angry public money is siphoned off for a privileged group of people.”

The free school, which is being proposed by the Neighbourhood School Campaign (NSC) and education charity ARK, has now fought back against the criticism.
 
Jon de Maria, of the NSC, says:
 
“The feeder system would make the school more inclusive not less, and widens the geographic and demographic group that would get access to places at the new school. Straight line distance (which is used at other Wandsworth schools along with banding and the like) would have excluded all but those in the streets around the school which everyone acknowledges is a middle class area.
 
“Feeder schools (as well as being fair and transparent) extend the geographic area that gets access to the school and the demographic mix – given that two of the schools have free school meal entitlement well above the national and London average.  
 
“Without the feeder school policy most, if not all, of the pupils could come from Honeywell and Belleville or indeed from adjacent private schools. Contrary to being a barrier to working class children the inclusion of Highview and Wix schools gives these children access to pupil places at the new school.”
 
De Maria, who works in the contruction industry, also objects to the ‘bankers’s free school’ moniker.

“More than 2,500 people have signed up to support the campaign for a new school in the former Bolingbroke Hospital. The GMB has identified around 25 who work in the finance sector (including banks) – less than 1 per cent of our community support. They did not tot up the many other teachers, doctors, health service workers, local government workers, legal workers, full time mothers and people who work for charities who are as, or more, prevalent in the campaign. In short, there is no employment group that dominates the neighbourhood or the campaign.”
 
The Bolingbroke Academy is due to open its doors in September 2012.
 
January 17th, 2011