Downing Street ‘fawning’ over Geri Halliwell’s Highgate free school plans
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A free school founder has lashed out at the government for “fawning” over former Spice Girl Geri Halliwell and her plans to open a school near her Highgate home.
The pop star – now known as Mrs Horner following her recent marriage to Formula 1 boss Christian Horner – has already held meetings with officials in Downing Street and the Department for Education (DfE) about the proposals.
Community activist Linda Grove and other educationalists took five years to campaign for and open free primary school Abacus Belsize in 2011, originally based at the Old Hampstead Town Hall in Haverstock Hill.
She said the rapidity with which Ms Halliwell is progressing with proposals “devalued” the process of setting up free schools.
“It took Abacus five years to open as did many other free schools, some still struggling for premises,” Ms Grove, of Belsize Lane, Belsize Park, said. “Geri whines, and she is in the door of No 10!
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“I know nothing about her or her project but when families get together and try to work on a school and you see the celebrity culture opening a door, it doesn’t make you feel valued.
“This is another example of the government fawning over celebrities.”
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Mrs Horner unveiled the plans for a school specialising in the arts and in business in an interview with the Mail on Sunday, in which she insisted they are still in a preliminary phase.
Aspiring to be a role model for young people, Mrs Horner said: “I believe in education. It’s an empowering fundamental human right that everyone deserves. Education is a foundation for life.”
But the plans have prompted a hesitant response from educationalists.
Anne Clarke, who opposes the establishment of new free schools, wrote on Facebook: “I’m not sure why she’s any less qualified than anyone else to open a free school.
“We have shamed former teachers and carpet sellers running them, why not a Spice Girl?”
But she added: “I do wish, however, she and other aspiring free school founders would have conversations with local schools to see how they could best be supported and do a real assessment of school place need.”
Mrs Horner has one daughter called Bluebell, aged nine, who attends a north London private school.
The Watford-raised star, who shot to fame with the Spice Girls in the 1990s, is an alumna of top state secondary Camden School for Girls in Camden Town.
A DfE spokesman said: “Free schools are giving thousands more children the access to an excellent and innovative education and we welcome applications from all groups interested in setting one up.
“All applications are rigorously assessed and must meet our high standards before approval can be given.”