Parents should have say on ‘free’ school option in Great Dunmow, says councillor

PUBLISHED: 14:32 17 January 2014 | UPDATED: 14:32 17 January 2014

Parents in Great Dunmow could have a say on the future of their ­children’s education, with a district councillor suggesting an ­opportunity could be available to set up a ‘free’ school.

Cash and land have been earmarked by developers Crest Nicholson for a primary school on the 370-home Smiths Farm development, as part of the Section 106 deal for planning approval.

However, Councillor Keith Mackman, a member of Uttlesford District Council’s planning committee, said the community – and not Essex County Council’s education ­authority – should take control.

He questioned whether Dunmow would see the benefits, and claimed the town could maximise the resources to set up a ‘free’ school.

The school would be only the second of its type in Essex and a first for the district.

Cllr Mackman, representative for Dunmow South, said: “My views are influenced by the knowledge that we cannot automatically assume Essex County Council will accept the offer of land on a site for a school and proceed to build that school.

“On the contrary, it is not unusual for Essex to decline to build schools on new application sites even where their demands for S106 monies toward education provision border on the onerous.

“There is a definite need for more school places in the town.

“I have not had the opportunity to go into any depth regarding the ­criteria for setting up a free school but I am confident it is well within the capacity of Dunmow if the community are minded to go down that route.

“There are able people in the town who would be able to organise this and run it properly.”

‘Free’ schools – so-called because they are state-funded and not ­controlled by the local authority – have been set up around the country in response to what people say they want and need from education in their community.

These schools are able to set their own curriculum, although they are still subject to Ofsted inspections.

The Government is sympathetic to the concept and Education Secretary Michael Gove is known to be an advocate.

According to Essex County Council, it is possible for S106 money to be spent on building a free school and a spokesman added that the authority is “supportive of free schools under the right circumstances.

“ECC sees its role in overseeing education across the county and ensuring all children in Essex go to a good or outstanding school.”

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