Tuesday, 18 September 2012

First Free Publicly Funded School in Cornwall: St. Michael’s Catholic Secondary School, Camborne.

St. Michael’s Catholic Secondary School, Camborne, is the first Free School in Cornwall. It opened its doors this month to 60 pupils from as far away as Newquay, Wadebridge, Bodmin, St Austell, Truro and Penzance. Now that is commitment,  Look at the map. * Update: Now  there are 70 .

Initially St Michael's, founded in 1998, was a small, independent Catholic, co-educational school in Truro. Parents contributed what they could afford, and the school was supported by the Religious Daughters of the Cross,the Diocese of Plymouth and 'angels' in favour of the school who collected and gave money on a regular basis.

Support was also given by parishioners of Our Lady of the Portal and St. Piran Catholic Church in Truro.
Favourable word of mouth meant new pupils kept coming, the school kept going, and it passed all the  Ofsted inspections.

The premises, in a former Truro church, were small. There were no grounds, but the school was fortunately situated by a public park and gardens.

The Free School initiative launched by the new Conservative and Liberal Democrat Coalition in May 2010 gave the school the opportunity it needed to apply for funding and Free School status.

Now St Michael’s has moved from Truro to Camborne, and has room for 300 pupils in the former Camborne Grammar School,  cost the Department for Education £700,000. A new £3.5 million extension will be ready for September 2013.
Unlike other schools in Cornwall,  St. Michael's Catholic Secondary School  is funded by the taxpayer but independent of Cornwall Council.  It has complete freedom over teaching hours and pay, curriculum and budget. The school is Catholic but is open to everyone.

There have been mutterings by some:
·        Councillor Graham Walker, Shadow Education spokesman for the Liberal Democrats, who complained about the £18 million backlog in the county, saying "There is no demand in the area, or in Cornwall. The county has 8,000 extra places”.
·        Criticism by the South West Regional Secretary for the National Union of Teachers (NUT), Andy Woolley, who cited the pupil ratio at the school, with ten teachers (plus staff) for 65 pupils, “phenomenally low compared with the national average of 15 to 16…. demand from parents is not there while other schools in the area are doing a great job."
·        New school not ‘sustainable’ was the headline quoting Andy Woolley, in last week’s West Briton in an article on St. Michael’s.
·        So-called ‘homophobic’ remarks were taken out of context by governor Joyce Sanderson, and seized upon by the media.
·        A dozen or so people demonstrated outside St. Michael’s against what they believe is the school’s policy on gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students.

Whatever critics and detractors may say, there certainly is a demand for the one and only Catholic Secondary School in Cornwall. The school  website has a clear aim: 'St Michael's Catholic Secondary School seeks to live out the message and life of Jesus Christ according to the teaching of the Catholic Church - by the learning we share, the example we set and the concern we have for all.'

The curriculum for Years 10-11 Key stage 4 follows the English Baccalaureate. With all the recent GCSE debacle, the Baccalaureate is a sound alternative. Subjects are English Language and Literature, Maths, Science (triple, core and additional), RE, History, Geography, French, Art and Music and drama, DT Product design and PE GCSE from 2013.

Spanish and Latin will be offered as extra-curricular subjects for students looking for what the school engagingly calls ‘a linguistic pathway’. Another advantage is that parents can leave their children early and collect them later, as there is a daily breakfast club from 8 am and wide choice of extra-curricular activities until 5pm:

  • Performing arts club.
  • Film./animation
  • DT/crafts
  • Homework
  • Music/choir
  • Art &ceramics
  • Languages
  • Gardening
  • Sailing
  • Water sports
  • Duke of Edinburgh
  • Life to the full club

Students are offered some adventurous looking activities judging by photos on the excellent school website. The school is good for rail links, right opposite the railway station. What more could parents want?

Of course these are early days, but St. Michael’s has already done well to double the pupil numbers since its move from Truro to Camborne: surely such a low ratio will attract rather than detract more parents and their children?

The school has proved its success over the last twelve years and given time is sure to increase its numbers.

Principal Neil Anderson
St. Michael's Catholic Secondary School.
Trevu Road
TR14 7AD
Tel: 01209 711172

See full article in The Tablet, 27.10.12