In this section of our website we hope to be able to address some of the questions you may have about Infinity and Free Schools in general. If you feel that your questions have not been addressed please use the contact page to get in touch and one of the team will be more than happy to send you an answer.
Background to the opening of the proposed new school
Q: Whose initiative is Infinity School?
A: Infinity School, an innovative and researched informed school, is the collaborative undertaking of several individuals. We are not a faceless chain or a corporate entity, we are educators, parents and local residents with a desire to provide the most effective learning for all.
Q: What impact will the creation of a new school have on other local secondary schools?
A: There is an overall need for a new secondary school in Waltham Forest and Walthamstow in particular. There is an acute need for a new school in Walthamstow where existing secondary schools are at or near full capacity. Attempts by Waltham Forest to increase capacity will still fall short of the projected secondary school spaces needed for 2020, even if the much delayed Barclays Academy opens. The need for spaces is compounded by population growth and as a result of several housing developments, notably the South Grove and Blackhorse road developments. A new school will offer families increased choice and address the need for spaces while providing an innovative and proven approach to education.
Our proposed school has a particular focus on enquiry, collaboration and personalisation. It will also offer an alternative approach towards assessment at age 16, applying an approach similar to that of the internationally recognised International Baccalaureate, while ensuring high levels of exam success. Infinity School will provide high quality educational opportunities that maximise the progression and attainment of young people from all backgrounds.
Q: Do we really need a new school in Waltham Forest?
In line with projected demographic growth within the borough, conservatively estimated to an increase of 16,700 by 2021, those within the 5-15 age range will represent a significant increase. Between 2016 and 2021 it is projected that the population within this age category will grow by 3,500. The pressure is already evident with filled primary school place numbers within the borough far exceeding the number of spaces available within the borough secondary schools. Waltham Forest Council estimate that significant additional secondary school places will be needed by 2020. Yet numbers are likely to increase into the future, especially within Walthamstow where two significant housing developments and a third proposed development on the High Street will put additional pressure on school places.
Waltham Forest plans to address this shortfall through a variety of strategies, including:
- working with schools to ensure that available places are taken up
- expansion of existing schools
- the establishment of new schools.
The capacity of the secondaries are already stretched and the proposed Barclays Academy continues to be delayed, all of which makes the need for a new school even more important.
About free schools and academies
Q: What are academies and free schools, and are they all run by private sponsors?
A: Academies and free schools are state-funded independent local schools that aim to provide a free, first-class education for students of all abilities through a fresh approach to school leadership, teaching and learning. They offer a full, broad and balanced curriculum.
As at April 2016, there are already more than 5200 academies throughout the country and over 400 free schools either open or in the pipeline. 66% of all state-funded secondary schools are now academies or free schools. These have been set up and managed by independent, although not necessarily private sector, sponsors such as universities, businesses, the charitable sector, educational foundations and faith communities. Sponsors may also be school-based. All of them bring skills and expertise in other fields which they are able to apply to their schools to deliver forward-thinking educational opportunities for all and encourage regeneration of communities.
The other main difference is the governance structure in that, at the highest level, it is an independent trust rather than a local authority that is deciding the nature and path of the free school or academy.
Current legislation and capital funding policies makes it most likely that a new school would be an academy or free school. Both are financed by the state but are run independently and not by local authorities. Yet in most cases such schools work closely with local authorities to ensure they do not work in isolation to the local community.
A free school is a new school, hosted in either an existing building or in a new build. An academy is an existing school that has converted to academy status. Once open, a free school has the same legal status as an academy school.
In terms of freedom to innovate, free schools and academies do have less regulatory constraints in terms of the National Curriculum and how innovative they can make their learning schedules, although practically all other school regulations do apply, including admissions, special educational needs and disabilities, and exclusions. Free schools such as Infinity school are subject to the same inspection frameworks as other school with Ofsted inspections part of this.
Q: Does a new school have to be a free school?
A: Current legislation and capital funding policies make it likely that a new school would be an academy or free school. The only way now to meet the needs of the Waltham Forest community by building a new school is through the Free School route.
All three major parties have signed up to the principle of establishing new, independent state schools. All main political parties have also publicly stated that free schools that have opened or been approved to open will remain.
Q: Are free schools better schools?
A: All kinds of schools – local authority maintained schools, academies and free schools – can be successful: the key factors for good and outstanding schools are not the type of school but the quality of leadership and the quality of teaching. We at Infinity School do not believe that one type of school is ‘better’ than others however schools are more effective when they make the most of opportunities made possible through being Academy’s or Free Schools.
Q: Is there proof that free schools and academies raise standards?
A: The Department for Education has recently stated “Evidence from around the world clearly demonstrates that educational performance is improved by giving autonomy to front-line teaching professionals and holding those professionals to account for the outcomes they achieve for young people. It is not the case that every academy or free school performs better than every local-authority school; but the academy system makes it easier to put in place those factors – better teaching, leadership, curriculums and accountability – that incontrovertibly drive up standards. It better allows underperformance to be tackled when it does occur; and establish a system more likely to lead to long-term improvements in results over the next decade”.
All of the free schools that opened in 2011 and 2012 have now been inspected by Ofsted – 24% were judged to be outstanding, compared to 11% of all other state schools inspected at the same time.
As at April 2016, 66% of all state funded secondary schools are academies or free schools. Ofsted’s most recently published data (December 2015) indicates that there were 140 secondary schools nationally that are currently rated inadequate by Ofsted; 40 (29%) of these are academies or free schools. Source: Ofsted
Q: What is the difference between a free school and an academy?
Free schools and academies are financed by the state but are run independently and not by local authorities.
A free school is a new school, hosted in either an existing building or in a new build. An academy is an existing school that has converted to academy status. Once open, a free school has the same legal status as an academy school.
Q: Who pays for the school?
A: The school would be funded directly by the government’s Education Funding Agency.
Q: Is there funding available for a new school?
A: The site for the new school could potentially be provided by Waltham Forest Council, purchased by the Education Funding Agency, the build costs will also be met by the government’s Education Funding Agency. This means no extra cost to the local tax payer.
The buildings may be owned by the council and it will lease them to the school trust; however, this will be determined once the site has been confirmed.
Q: If the school opens with only year 7 students attending, how would this effect funding?
A: The school will be comprised only of year 7 students in the first year. The government will provide additional ‘start up’ funding during the first few years of the school opening. This funding is designed to enable the school to cover essential initial costs, such as buying books and equipment; and to meet the costs arising as the school builds up its student numbers over time. Infinity School will apply a ‘school within a school’ model which will support the funding of sustainable year on year growth.
Q: Does funding academies and free schools take money away from maintained schools, so they become run down?
A: No, academies and free schools are still state schools, funded by the government and subject to the same state standards, reviews and regulations. One of the differences is that free schools and academy schools receive their funding directly from central government (via the Education Funding Agency), whilst maintained schools receive their funding via the local authority.
Q: Compared to existing schools will the new school bring in more, less or equal revenue funding?
A: The revenue funding is calculated on the same basis as for maintained schools. The school will qualify for some additional transition funding as it builds to capacity. The revenue grant will additionally include a proportion of funding that, in the case of maintained schools, is held back by the local authority to provide services to its schools. However, it is important to remember that the school will not be entitled to receive most services from the local authority (such as legal support etc.): these will be bought from the local authority or from an alternative sources such as other local secondary schools.
Location and building
Q: Where will the school be located?
A: The site selection will be a matter for Waltham Forest council to research and decide on in conjunction with the Infinity School Trust and the Education Funding Agency. We will work closely and proactively with Waltham Forest Council and the Education Funding Agency to identify a suitable site within, ideally, E17. There will be a lot of work to be done before we can reach a point where any decision might be made; however, we recognise how important this is to young people, their parents, carers and local residents. We will work transparently to ensure all are consulted as we move into the phases concerning location and build.
Q: Who will own the school buildings?
A: The buildings are likely to be owned by the council and it will lease them to the trust; however, this would be determined once the site has been confirmed.
Q: Given potential constraints upon space, what are your plans for outside space for students to use at break-time and lunch-time to run around and play games, and to do PE?
A: An assessment of the outside areas would be undertaken during the discussions concerning location and build. Such assessments would ensure there is sufficient day to day outdoor and circulation space.
Many schools access alternative facilities for PE and sports, such as Lloyd Park, and this may be an option should there be insufficient space for sports facilities at the site.
Q: 2019 is not very far off. Is it feasible that the new school could open by then?
It is our intention for the school to open for September 2019 folowing our successful bid to open the Infinity School, but this is dependent on a number of key milestones such as the agreement of the Education Funding Agency and Waltham Forest Council on the site.
Q: Will parents be able to choose for their children to go to the new school?
A: The admissions procedure for the normal admissions round (i.e. year 7) of the new school may work in the same way as other secondary state schools in Waltham Forest.
Once the new school has opened, applications will be made in accordance with Waltham Forest Council’s co-ordinated admissions arrangements. Parents will be able to apply to up to three schools and can express a preference for which school they wish their child to attend. If the first choice school has fewer applicants than places then that is where their child will go. If a school is oversubscribed then each school’s oversubscription criteria would be applied in order to determine how places should be allocated.
For the first year of entry only (i.e. September 2019 entry), it is likely that parents will be able to apply for a place at the school directly with us. They will still also have the opportunity to apply for up to three other schools through the Council’s co-ordinated arrangements.
We appreciate the difficulty for parents wishing to make an informed decision; the level of detail increases as the new school proposal progresses and we would keep all informed as key decisions are made.
Q: What will the school’s admissions policy be?
A: The detail of the admissions policy is still to be developed. We will follow the statutory requirements set out in the government’s School Admissions Code, in common with all state-funded schools. Free schools are ‘all ability’ schools, so cannot use academic selection processes unlike, for example, grammar schools.
We will develop a non-selective admissions policy, which welcomes children from all backgrounds, including those with special educational needs and disabilities.
Admission is likely to be prioritised for looked after children and siblings of children already in the school. Once agreed, if the trust wishes to revise its admissions arrangements, it must first consult with key stakeholders, including parents, the local authority, feeder schools, and relevant community groups.
Q: If the school becomes part of the normal school admissions procedure will normal catchment area rules apply? I am concerned that depending on the approved location of the school it will not be a viable option for my family.
A: We intend, in principle, to be part of Waltham Forest’s normal admissions arrangements and catchments. However, we are not due to finalise our proposed admissions policy until early in 2019, by which time the position regarding the catchments will be clearer and we may also have some clarity regarding the school’s proposed location.
Unfortunately there is not a straightforward answer at the moment – we will update the information on this website as decisions are made.
Teaching and learning
Q: Who chooses the curriculum and how do subjects get decided?
A: The school’s Governing Body, on behalf of the trust’s Board of Directors, would be responsible for the strategic direction of the curriculum, whilst the Leadership Team in collaboration with teachers, students, parents and carers, will be responsible for its day-to-day implementation.
The school’s curriculum will be broad and balanced, with an appropriate focus on English, maths, science, humanities and the arts. The detailed aspects of the curriculum are still being developed however our approach will promote interdisciplinarity and will reflect the subjects of the Middle Years Curriculum of the IB. In addition our teachers will design the curriculum alongside students ensuring that what is offered is rigorous, authentic and built democratically.
Q: How many students are going to be taught in a class?
A: Infinty School will apply the principles of ‘Human Scale Education’ which will ensure that the school is highly pesonalised and not daunting. This will be achieved by creating smaller collaborative learning units of no more than 6 students. The exact nature and size of the ‘classrooms’ will be driven by the curriculum. It is likely there will be a range of rooms or Hubs from small areas designed for mentoring/one-to-ones to larger areas where students can undertake collaborative project work. The curriculum and building design will try to minimise the amount that students move around the buildings while enabling students to access environments which will promote the most appropriate pedagogy and learning.
We seek to be an average sized school with an intake of 120 students per year.
Q: What would be the minimum and maximum class size in the school?
A: Typical class sizes would vary between 6–30 students. Some sessions will be larger with up to 60 students present, however the core group of 6 will always be the focus of each learning session. Normal teaching sessions would be complemented by smaller tutor groups. Specialist small group ‘nurture’ provision would also be available for those students needing additional support.
Q: Will there be sixth form provision at the school?
A: While the school will not offer a sixth form for the first 5 years, we will seek to ‘grow our own’ potentially providing sixth form provision, offering the IB Diploma and IB Career-related Programme, once our first cohort of students reach their 4th or 5th year of study.
Q: Will sex and relationship education be taught in the school?
Yes, sex and relationship education will be taught as part of the school’s personal, health and social education provision. The school is statutorily required to have a sex and relationship education policy.
Q: Will religious education be taught in the school?
Yes. Under the terms of their Funding Agreement with the Secretary of State, academies and free schools have to provide religious education for the students, except for those whose parents exercise the right of withdrawal. However we will offer religious education provision as part of an integrated philosophy and ethics programme.
Q: What will the school’s policy be regarding pupils with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND)?
A:The Infinity School will be inclusive, welcoming children from all backgrounds, including those with special educational needs and disabilities.
Whilst the number of staff in the school will increase incrementally as the school grows to capacity, it is the intention to appoint a special educational needs coordinator (SENCO) from day one.
We are committed to supporting students with SEND in a flexible and highly personalised way.
Q: As a free school will the new school follow the national curriculum?
Whilst free schools are not required to follow the national curriculum, they must provide a broad and balanced curriculum, including English, maths and science. The new school’s curriculum will incorporate the core subjects and will be underpinned by academic rigour so that students leaving the school have the skills and qualifications that will enable them to reach their full potential and inspire them to continue learning. We at Infinity will go beyond the national curriculum enabling students to develop their capacity for lifelong-lifewide learning. Like all state schools, the new school will be inspected by Ofsted.
Almost all other school regulations do apply, including admissions, special educational needs and exclusions.
Q: If my child is in the first cohort, how can I be sure of the quality of their experience?
A: The government will provide additional ‘start up’ funding during the first few years of the school opening. This funding is designed to enable the school to cover essential initial costs, such as buying books and equipment; and to meet the costs arising as the school builds up its student numbers over time. Staffing plans will be developed which will enable the full year 7 curriculum to be taught. We will appoint both experienced and new teachers who will benefit from a comprehensive induction and professional development programme. We will also be able to draw on expertise from partner organisations. Student voice will play an important role within Infinity through which quality of experience will be closely monitored.
We will also be a transparent school enabling parents to visit and see what we do on a daily basis.
Parent and carer involvement
Q: How will parents be involved?
A: There are a number of ways in which this will happen.
Parents will be represented on the school’s Governing Body, taking a part in the strategic management and monitoring of the provision and to ensure that the parent views are represented and relayed.
Once opened the school will establish a Parents’ Council or similar. Additionally we are also considering other ways of involving parents such as increased direct links between teachers and parents, possibly drawing on new technology such as online progress tracking.
A distinctive feature of Infinity is the learning relationship we seek to establish with parents and carers. It is our aim to involve every parent and carer in the learning culture of the school, drawing on their collective expertise to create a rich and varied curriculum offer.
Q: How will bullying, disruption and truancy be tackled within the school?
A: The trust is committed to making the school an inclusive institution that welcomes all students. Part of this commitment is a behaviour policy that supports a safe, calm environment in which all students can learn to the best of their ability. We would see exclusion as a last resort and would develop a policy to reflect this. We would develop an Ethical Behaviour Policy built around rights and choice. In addition we will use a form of Restorative Justice to support our democratic approach to arbitration. Students will be actively involved in the management of their own and others behaviours.
Teaching at the new school
Q: Would all members of teaching staff be fully qualified teachers?
A: All permanent teaching staff will have or be working towards, at the very least, Qualified Teacher Status. Furthermore, the evidence based research shows that the most important factor in student progress and achievement is the calibre of the teacher in front of the class. Consequently, the recruitment, training and development of outstanding teachers will be our absolute priority from the outset. Due to our proposed structure teachers will work in close pairs developing n collaboration their skills and expertise all with a focus on student outcomes.
Q: Who will employ the staff?
A: The staff would be employees of the Infinity School Trust.
Q: Could I as a parent be involved in teaching?
A: A distinctive feature of our approach is how we will use the local community, parents and folk educators to be part of all we do at Infinity. We will actively seek parent engagement within learning experiences from supporting reading to teaching community languages, from sitting on an assessment panel to being the audience member of a Presentation Of Learning .
Q: Will the school’s holidays be different to other state schools in Waltham Forest?
A: The school day and year may be similar to other local secondary and primary schools. The precise details relating to term length and holidays will be agreed upon in collaboration with parents, carers and Waltham Forest Council. We understand how important it is to support parents who work.