Mrs Morgan - Open Harperbury Free School
This petition had 361 supporters
Harperbury Free School was the idea of a group of parents and teachers from Hertfordshire who became aware of the problems local families faced in getting their children into secondary schools based in nearby towns and the City of St Albans. There are many very good and outstanding schools in the area but places are restricted by entrance exams, faith, gender or by the ability to pay for the private ones.
Following extensive consultations locally over two years, the group submitted their 150 page application to the Department for Education in January 2013 to open Harperbury Free School as a new secondary Free School serving the Parishes of Shenley, London Colney, Aldenham and St Stephen plus the town of Borehamwood & Elstree. It would offer 120 places a year (4 FE) with places being allocated on the basis of the distance families lived from the school. In May 2013 their application was approved and work began on creating the school.
This school is much needed. Our area has one of the lowest percentages (75% in 2015) of families being allocated places at one of their four preferred secondary schools and students attend more than 50 different schools as families go further and further afield to try to find schools where they can get a place.
The group's “preferred” site was within the grounds of the former Harperbury Hospital near Radlett, an area of over 200 acres of Green Belt. A new hospital was being built there and the derelict buildings were due to be replaced by new homes but there was plenty of further space for the school.
The Education Funding Agency (EFA), an agency of the Department for Education, was responsible for securing a site within the hospital grounds and building the school. However they took 17 months to agree on a site so the school's opening was delayed by a year, disappointing the 200 families who had applied for places. Then, due to the EFA's concerns about planning issues, the school was prevented by EFA from opening in the second year, again letting down another nearly 200 local families.
In early 2016 the local planning authority in St Albans confirmed their view (originally expressed a year before) that the site obtained for the school by EFA was too small and so they would not recommend giving the school planning approval. As a result, the Schools' Minister, Lord Nash notified the school he was cancelling the whole school project and his staff expressed the view that there was a risk that “no suitable site can ever be found” in this area.
We believe this decision is extremely misguided. It is ridiculous to suggest no site can “ever” be found. The Minister appears to be covering up the unbelievable errors on the part of his “expert” staff in EFA who failed to secure a suitably sized site for the school. From the beginning the school identified a number of possible alternative sites within the overall Harperbury site and they recently (December 2015) commissioned an extensive Alternative Sites Assessment from professional Hertfordshire based planning consultants Vincent & Gorbing who examined over 60 potential sites and identified several suitable for a new school.
We the undersigned demand that Nicky Morgan, Secretary of State for Education holds an internal enquiry into the conduct of her staff in dealing with this project and creates a Project Recovery Team including members of the Harperbury Free School Board to look into all the options to build and open this school as soon as possible, including the possibilities of obtaining more land at Harperbury or utilising a different site within the overall hospital site or moving the school to another suitable site nearby.
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