Parents accept 'secret location' Marylebone free school offers

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Image caption The Marylebone Boys' School will open at a temporary site in September

Parents are being asked to accept places at a new free school in London, without knowing where its permanent home is going to be.

Marylebone Boys' School in Westminster has just been approved by the government after a prolonged campaign by parents.

But the site identified for the secondary school after 2016 is being kept secret.

Westminster Council said that would remain the case until "the contract is signed".

It is understood the building is owned by the council and currently occupied, which could indicate the potential for difficult negotiations and negative publicity involving the present tenants.

The building would need to be demolished and rebuilt, but no estimate of the cost is being given for such work in what is one of the most expensive parts of London.

The council said an "announcement on the permanent site will be made in the early summer once final contractual issues are ironed out".

It added there is no shortage of secondary school places in the borough, and there is sufficient provision until 2020.

The government is expected to sign off the paperwork on the new school this week.

Schools minister Lord Nash said: "The school will greatly enhance education provision in Westminster and exemplifies what the free school programme is all about - strong vision, leadership, and a commitment to ensuring all pupils achieve their full potential regardless of their background."

Official approval has now allowed the school's backers to send out letters to parents, making firm what were previously the provisional offers made last month.

But all the parents are being told about the permanent home is that it will be three-quarters of a mile from Marylebone Town Hall on Marylebone Road.

A temporary site has been found in Kilburn in the neighbouring borough of Brent for the next two years for the school, which will open in September.

One parent James Van Bregt said he was delighted the school had got the go-ahead, and the long-term location was not significant for him.

"The most important thing is the commitment to the school and what it has to offer. The location doesn't matter: what matters to us is the curriculum and ethos of the school."

Free school delays

The Education Funding Agency (EFA) will only sign off new free schools when a permanent home is identified.

But it is unusual for parents to know so little about the long-term plans for their children when accepting places.

Parent backers had previously criticised the council for not doing enough to find a permanent site for the school.

This raised the possibility of a high-profile row over a totemic government policy between the Department for Education and one of the capital's flagship Conservative boroughs just ahead of local elections.

But council leader Philippa Roe said there had been "misinformation" about the council's efforts and the claims it did not support the school.

"I am delighted that we have been able to find a site for Marylebone Boys' School. We have worked very hard with the EFA over the past 18 months and it is fantastic to see this work pay off," she said.

Over the next few years the capital needs thousands of extra primary and secondary school places.

But there are signs that the free school policy is running into practical difficulties.

About a quarter of the 45 free schools due to open this September are delayed by a year, or have not yet found a permanent home.

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