Cobham Free School plans under fire at meeting
PLANS for a new "free school" have come under fire at a heated public meeting in Cobham.
A team of 12 teachers, parents and professionals is hoping to open Cobham Free School in September as part of the Government's scheme to let local people set up schools within the state system.
The school will cater for children aged four to 11 in classes no larger than 23, and organisers have pledged to combine the best practices from state and private schools.
But at Saturday's meeting, the first since the bid began last summer, locals raised concerns about the effect on the area's other schools and what they see as a lack of communication between school planners and the local community.
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Rhian Thornton, head teacher at St Matthew's Church of England Infant School in Cobham, said: "The free school have been invited on a number of occasions to talk to us but we didn't even get a response.
"There are two excellent existing schools in Cobham with plans to expand. There's nothing in terms of innovation or difference that's been talked about at the meeting that's not already offered by the two existing schools."
Speaking after the meeting, county councillor Tim Hall echoed concerns about communication, saying free school representatives failed to attend a meeting about Cobham's primary schools in December and cancelled a meeting with him.
He said: "Their communication with other people in the Cobham education community has been fairly awful and far behind where they should have been.
"One of the reasons they had so much difficulty running the meeting is that everyone else in the community turned up to find out what was going on."
Sue Kilpatrick, chairman of Cobham and Downside Residents' Association, speaking personally and not for the association, said: "I want to know what they are offering that the other two schools in Cobham aren't, because in terms of facilities I think it's similar."
But Councillor James Brown (Conservative, Cobham Fairmile) defended the school plan, saying: "I am well aware people have doubts about it but the bottom line for me is a question of choice.
"Choice shouldn't be the preserve of people able to pay private fees and this gives people in Cobham another choice of school."
A spokeswoman for the school said: "The reason there has been little communication between us and the community is because we are limited with what we are allowed to say by the Department for Education framework.
"We did a survey on Mumsnet. com and the response was there was a need for a junior level school and so we sent out flyers and collected evidence of demand on our own website."