In 2008, a group of local parents, of which I am one, decided to join forces to fight for the quality and consistency of our children’s education. Our local authority had made a decision to move from a 3-tier education system (first school, middle school and high school) to a 2-tier system (primary and secondary schools). The direct consequence was the closure of our local middle school, Birkenshaw Middle School (BMS), which our children attended, with no replacement within the same community. This would effectively divide the community, as pupils would need to attend different schools, some distance away. We were vehemently against the proposed changes and wanted a secondary school located in Birkenshaw.
At this time the local authority was led by a Conservative administration, which supported the development of a local secondary school. The opposition parties, however, did not share this vision. After forming a coalition and returning a vote of no confidence, they ousted the Conservative leadership and changed the Building Schools for the Future reorganisation plans. Despite several consultations highlighting strong support for a local secondary school, the plans to close BMS remained.
We set up the BBG Community Trust, comprising a group of local parents with a range of professional backgrounds, from business owners and local councillors to those working in the education sector. Together, we garnered support for our cause: we collected over 3,000 signatures opposing the plans, organised a 500-strong car convoy, a march and a balloon launch attended by more than 1,000 people. There was also a silent march through the council chambers, at which local children gave each council member a pair of paper ears – a simple message to listen to us and make the right decision.
This campaigning and protesting was taking place over the course of 2009, at the same time that the Conservative party was planning to reform the education system. One of their initiatives was the Free School policy, which would allow us to set up our own secondary school. Once the coalition government took power, we would be in the position to apply to open our own Free School.
In the same year, at a conference in Westminster, we met Elaine Simpson, Serco’s Global Director for Children’s Services, and Rachel Wolf of the New Schools Network (NSN). With advice from both Serco and the NSN we began to develop a curriculum for our proposed new school. The curriculum will have a strong emphasis on the core subjects of English, maths and science and sets out guidelines for the provision of outstanding pastoral care. We want every child to be recognised and known by their name. We then submitted our business case to the Secretary of State. This has now been approved and we are in the final pre-opening stages. The new Free School – the BBG Academy – is set to open in September 2013. We are delighted that generations of children within our community will now have the choice of attending a local school. We intend for BBG Academy to become a flagship school both locally and nationally, providing high quality education for all.