“We’re a normal academy”, says new Westminster free school head

One of the first free schools in the country is to open in Queen’s Park next week although its headteacher says it will think of itself as a normal academy school.

ARK Atwood Primary Academy will welcome its first pupils next Thursday (September 15) in temporary accommodation in Third Avenue. In 2014 it will then move to its permanent home in the current Westminster Adult Education Service building on Amberley Road, Maida Hill.

The primary is one of 24 free schools to open around the country this month although it has been set up by education charity ARK Schools which runs 10 other schools around the country – including King Solomon Academy in Church Street.

Headteacher Daniel Upfield, who was previously acting headteacher of Colville Primary School in Ladbroke Grove, says the new wave of free schools is a “mechanism for being able to open a new school”.

“There are lots of different types of free schools,” he said. “There are academies. And then there are religious groups and parent groups but we are quite different to them. We are principally thinking of ourselves as an ARK primary school in the ARK family.

“We will be operating along the same lines as existing ARK schools.”

Mr Upfield says the school came about after a request from Westminster Council although ARK has also worked closely with a parent group.

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“We are opening to respond to the rising child population in Westminster,” he said.

“There’s a real need for good quality primary places in the north of Westminster.”

The school will initially open to two reception classes of up to 30 pupils and will grow with an extra two classes each year.

A number of local primary schools questioned the Third Avenue location of the new school amid claims of a lack of need for places in that part of north Westminster.

But Mr Upfield says the school has moved to calm fears that it will take away pupils from existing Queen’s Park primary schools by changing its admission criteria. Its catchment area will be taken from its permanent Amberley Road site rather than its temporary Third Avenue site.

“Preparations are going well and I look forward to welcoming the children,” said Mr Upfield.

“It’s a great opportunity to start a new school from scratch and create an outstanding education for the pupils.”