Listen: Three years on, Romford’s first free school set to open in September

Artist impression of the Concordia Academy on Union Road, Romford, which REAch2 will open in Septemb

Artist impression of the Concordia Academy on Union Road, Romford, which REAch2 will open in September. Credit: Blue Sky Architects - Credit: Archant

In the first of a series of joint investigations by Recorder and Time FM journalists we look at the long-running saga to provide much needed primary school places. Scroll down to listen to Time 107.5’s Vaughan Report on free schools.

After a three year saga, including one missed opening, Romford’s first free school has said it will provide “exceptional learning opportunities”.

Concordia Academy will take 90 four and five-year-olds when it opens in September, contributing to the 3,000 extra school places needed in Havering over the next five years.

The final go ahead was given earlier this month when planning permission to demolish Oldchurch Hospital, Union Road, Romford, and build the new school was granted.

“We are really excited about getting to know parents and children in the Romford community,” said Cathie Paine, deputy chief executive of REAch2 Academy Trust, which will run the school.

REAch2 Academy Trust took over the project last year after Oasis Academy announced it was withdrawing as “establishing the new academy has required a much greater investment of time and resources than was originally envisaged”.

Havering Council’s cabinet member for children and young people Cllr Meg Davis said the council needs the school to be ready in September and is “disappointed” it has taken so long.

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Concordia Academy – or the harmony and good-health academy – was named after the former hospital’s nurses’ accommodation block, which will be replaced by the four-storey school.

“The children’s well-being and superb educational outcomes will be at the heart of everything we do,” added Mrs Paine.

Founded in 2012, the REAch2 Academy Trust is the largest primary-only school trust in the UK and operates 51 schools across the country including the Langtons Junior Academy, Hornchurch.

“It’s a great honour to be given the opportunity to open a school from scratch – not only the building, bricks and walls but also what goes inside it,” said Mrs Paine.

But pupils starting in September will initally be taught in prefab buildings rather than permanent classrooms. Mrs Paine said most of the 403 free schools in the UK started on temporary sites to speed up the lengthy opening process.

She believes this could be positive as parents and pupils will be involved in the build, expected to be completed by September 2017.

But Cllr Davis said it could also be “a dilemma” as parents may prefer to apply to schools that already have roofs.

“But we will make it work and we will support Concordia as best as we can,” she added.

The lack of on-site parking at the new site is “a hot topic” admitted Mrs Paine but she stressed that Concordia Academy addressed a “geographical need for school places” and would work to find solutions.

Concordia Academy will set its own curriculum, which is expected to emphasise basic literacy and maths skills as well as out of classroom experiences, such as trips to France, camping and rafting.

By 2023, Concordia Academy will reach its full capacity and cater for 630 primary pupils.

REAch4, REAch2 sister trust, is even looking at opening a secondary school in Romford.