MP seeks assurances over future of 'valued' free school

Bicester Advertiser: Sir Tony Baldry Sir Tony Baldry

TORY MP Sir Tony Baldry has sought assurances from Labour that a school in Upper Heyford near Bicester will be safeguarded if the party wins the next General Election.

It follows comments by shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt earlier this month that free schools were “expensive, half-empty and underperforming”.

In a letter, the Banbury MP said: “I would be grateful if you would confirm... you would do nothing to undermine the viability or funding for Heyford Park Free School.”

He denied it implied he thought Labour would gain a majority in the 2015 election.

He said: “I need to make sure that [they] would continue to properly fund Heyford Park Free School, which parents have done so much work to ensure is open.”

The school opened in September, taking a total of 81 boys and girls.There were 61 pupils in Year 7, the first year of secondary school.

The £12m establishment aims to eventually take 840 children from age four to 19.

But Liberal Democrat county councillor John Howson, a member of the education scrutiny committee, said a new secondary school was not needed in North Oxfordshire.

He said: “It does not fit into the logical plan of where we need schools most.

“When the new estates in Upper Heyford grow there may be a need for a primary school, but in that case it should be funded by the developer.

“If the Government is paying, that’s millions of pounds spent on school places we do not really need.

“I am not a fan of the policy but I do not object if they are in the right places, such as East Oxford.”

Heyford Park Free School principal David Castles defended the secondary school, saying: “In terms of parental demand, this school is absolutely needed.

“We are very close to Bicester as well, which is a major growth area and will need significant numbers of places in years to come.

“Free schools are in response to demand for more places and they also give parents more choice.

“Oxfordshire is a county with a shortage in both primary and secondary school places.”

Labour Party spokeswoman Danielle Glavin said existing free schools would not be closed or have their funding cut if Labour came to power in 2015. But she said the free school programme was failing to meet demand for school places in areas with shortages.

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