Founding mother aims to set up free school in just a year

THE thought of setting up a new school from scratch in just a year would leave most people feeling weak at the knees.

But Penny Roberts, a 36-year-old mother-of-two, stood bolt upright as she confidently showed the Ham &High around the church hall she plans to turn into a primary school by September 2011.

The building, which is attached to St Luke’s Church in Kidderpore Avenue, will gradually be transformed into a half-form entry primary for four to 11-year-olds.

It is one of three proposed free schools in north London which the Education Secretary Michael Gove recently announced could move to the next stage of developing a business plan.

The schools will be state-funded but free from local government control and the idea behind them is to give parents more choice while improving educational standards for all children. From next September, 15 children aged four and five will be accepted at St Luke’s and this will continue for the next six years, until the school is full.

“Time is tight before September, but we are confident that we will be able to open with a really good classroom in September,” Mrs Roberts said, as she pointed to the prospective classroom, which is full of gym equipment.

“We’re preparing the business plan at the moment,” she continued. “Once we’ve got the funding we’ll be able to buy tables, chairs, books and computers.”

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Mrs Roberts worked as a secondary school maths teacher in south London for two years and then as an educational psychologist for Hertfordshire Council before giving up work eight years ago to have children. The plan is to have a single reception class and then mix children in Years 1 and 2, 3 and 4, and 5 and 6.

She explained: “Older children will be taught in mixed classes for subjects such as humanities, music but they will be divided up for core subjects.

“There is a lot of benefit to mixing the children up. In a small school it will add to the community feel and we want to create a very strong community feel.”

So what exactly is her motivation for taking up Mr Gove’s radical idea and setting up a Free School? “One is that Camden has a shortfall of primary places,” Mrs Roberts explained.

“I’m a parent and although my experience of Camden primary schools has been excellent (her children both attend a Hampstead primary school) – I know there are not enough primary places in Camden. I think that’s very sad. Any parent should be able to send their child to a local school.

“My second motivation is that I’m part of this church. I know this church has a really big building for community use. The church knows this is something that they can do for the community.”

Although it is being run in a church, the admissions will be the same as community schools in Camden, giving children who live close by priority. Mrs Roberts said: “We’re going to mirror Camden’s admissions dates and will publish our admissions documents at the same time as Camden.”

Ham&High readers have been asked to help design a logo for the new free school.

Mrs Roberts said that the logo would be used on stationary and possibly the school uniform.

She said: “Our plans for a new primary school have grown out of a community vision.

“We would like to extend that involvement by inviting Ham and High readers to help us design the school logo. “We are looking for a design that can be used on school stationary and maybe even on a school uniform, a logo which reflects the intended community character of the school or that draws inspiration from the local environment such as from Hampstead Heath or from the church building itself.”

Designs should be circular, 8cm in diameter and in black, white and one other colour.

The closing date is Friday October 8 and entries should be submitted by email to; or by post to St Luke’s C of E Primary School, 12 Kidderpore Avenue, London, NW3 7SU. The winner will be announced in the Ham&High on October 21 and entries will be displayed at St Luke’s Church on Sunday October 24.

For more information about the competition visit