Students of future free schools could find themselves learning maths and science in former police stations or even disused London Underground buildings, according to London mayor Boris Johnson in a speech at the Conservative party conference this week.
The mayor was keen to voice his support for the government’s free school policy at the conference in Birmingham. He also revealed that he wants new schools to make use of empty Greater London Authority property.
While state funded, free schools are not under local authority control which means individual institutes have more say over teaching curriculum and budget spending. But finding the space for these schools is becoming increasingly difficult — London’s lack of property combined with increasing prices make the search even more problematic.
Mr Johnson spoke out about his passion for “parents and teachers and charities coming together to create wonderful new places of learning”, saying in his speech:
“I don’t want just a handful of these new schools, I want dozens of them across the capital.”
He went on to announce the creation of the New Schools for London group aimed at helping Michael Gove and his team find the sites they require. And it seems one of their options could be to open up the GLA’s property portfolio. The proposal has been criticised by London Assembly’s Labour leader Len Duvall:
“If this new free school policy means [Boris Johnson] will hand over police stations on peppercorn rents, it won’t help the policing budget and could make the police’s finances even worse than they already are.”
London Assembly Liberal Democrat leader Caroline Pidgeon echoed Duvall, arguing the mayor should “focus on housing where he has funding and powers, not schools where he has neither”. Local councils have estimated that between 2010 and 2014/15, there could be a shortfall of 65,000 primary school places and 5,000 secondary school places.
So is upcycling former fire stations a minimal price to pay for the growth and development of thousands of the city’s children and young adults? We really hope that classes in disused tube stations could be on the cards but think it’s probably unlikely and may cause a risk assessor somewhere to panic. We also spy an opportunity for venues befitting the lessons — how about learning physics in an old engineering shop?
By Rhian Robinson
Photo by aye-eye in the Londonist Flickr pool.