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Governor of proposed free school in Wembley dismisses claims of privatisation

PUBLISHED: 20:00 23 March 2013

Selva Pankaj is the chair of governors at Gateway

Selva Pankaj is the chair of governors at Gateway

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Selva Pankaj claims school's emphasis is providing a "21st century experience" for students

A governor for a proposed free school in Wembley has insisted it will adhere to the basics of the national curriculum and dismissed claims of privatisation.

Last week the Times revealed that an application had been made for the Gateway Academy in the Wembley Central ward, a free school with an emphasis on providing a “21st century experience” for students.

It attracted concern from teaching unions who claimed that education in the Wembley area was becoming privatised due to two existing academies, another free school application (Michaela Community School) in the pipeline and the soon-to-open independent french school at the Brent Town Hall site.

But speaking to the Times, Selva Pankaj, chair of governors at Gateway, insisted education was the most important thing.

He said: “Ultimately we will do what is right for the child – every decision we make will be based on whether it is right for pupils.”

Outlining the school’s core principles of Global Citizenship, Academia, The Arts and Enterprise (GATE) he continued: “There will be a big emphasis on global citizenship. If you look at Brent, there are a number of different nationalities and we want to foster an environment where they are all respected, while retaining the feeling that we are British citizens.

“However, we also want to focus on strong traditional academia and the arts, and ensure that pupils are prepared for work.”

The school will be split into four different houses, each named after a famous figure and representing one of the key principles.

The school is currently in discussion with the Department for Education (DfE) as any free school has to be agreed and funded by government officials, provided enough local support is garnered.

They are then free to set their own admissions policy, appoint their own staff and run their own curriculum.

Mr Pankaj added: “Broadly speaking it [the curriculum] will be very similar – we feel the core subjects are of vital importance.”

It is not yet known where exactly in Wembley Central the school would be located but Mr Pankaj said they were considering a number of options.

On claims of privatisation he said: “I don’t agree with the concept that free schools are privatisation.

‘‘It is a choice we are giving to parents and students – the idea has been tested in America and Sweden and over time, improvements have been made.

“Ultimately you just need to ask what the aims are. As an academies trust we want to add value to the children and whether you do that as an academy or free school or state school, it still has one thing in common to provide high quality education.”

A consultation into a second free school in Wembley Park is currently underway.

Initial consultation on the proposals to build the Michaela Community School (MCS) opened on Monday March 11 and will run until Monday April 22.

The school, which will be set-up by Katharine Birbalsingh, will be located at Arena House in North End Road, Wembley Park.

Two drop-in sessions are being held at the Chalkhill Community Centre, in Chalkhill Road, Wembley, between 3-5pm on Tuesday March 26 and between 6-8pm on Thursday April 4.

Everyone with an interest in MCS is welcome to visit and share their views on the proposal or ask questions.

A questionnaire is also available at www.mcsbrent.co.uk/consultation. Interested parties can also register their views by calling the dedicated message line on 0845 257 5070.

The school plans to open in September 2014.

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