A NEW era of education is starting as Oxfordshire’s first free school today prepares to open its doors.
The Europa School UK in Culham will welcome 164 children aged between four and six tomorrow.
It will offer a state-funded, multi- lingual education to the children, and is set to be the first of a string of free schools in the county.
Tyndale Community School, in East Oxford, and Heyford Park Free School, in Upper Heyford, are both expected to open next September.
Other proposed free schools yet to be approved by the Government include the Oxford New School, a secondary which would offer the Scottish curriculum, and the Harwell Enterprise Academy, focusing
on science and engineering.
Europa School principal Peter Ashbourne said the free school programme offered freedoms over curriculum, staff pay and conditions, budgets and the make-up of the school day along with state funding.
He said: “There was an attempt to do it under the Academies scheme but it really hit too many obstacles.
“This has really allowed us to flourish.”
Children at the school, which will eventually replace the European School with which it shares a site, are being accepted into Reception, Year One and Year Two classes, with two classes of 28 in each year.
Only four places in the Year Two German stream were unfilled with all other classes full.
Pupils will spend half the week learning their subjects in English and half in French or German and will learn numeracy, literacy, cover science, geography, history, personal relations, health, music and art.
They will sit normal Key Stage One and Two assessments but rather than GCSEs and A-Levels the school will offer the European Baccalaureate.
Nine teachers from different countries have been employed, along with Mr Ashbourne and head of primary education Pascal Marechau, and eight teaching assistants.
The school day runs from 8.25am to 3.35am, and an after-school club is being set up by parents which is due to be up and running by the second week of term.
Mr Ashbourne said: “We recognise some children will not speak a word of one of the languages to begin with but we will persist.
“We know the value of immersion and that will be the aim right from the start.”
The Heyford Park Free School is looking to appoint a principal by September 2013, who would be in post by January 2013, and has produced an admissions policy in association with Oxfordshire County Council.
A location has yet to be set for the Tyndale Community School but the school, run by Chapel Street Community Schools Trust in partnership with Oxford Community Church, will take 60 new primary pupils from Blackbird Leys, Cowley and East Oxford each year.
Parents said the school’s bi-lingual ethos would be a major boost for their children. Sandford-on-Thames resident Iris Burke, who moved to the UK from Germany 18 years ago, said she and her English husband Gareth welcomed the focus on other nations for twins Caitlin and Natasha, five.
She added: “Being taught a second language from an early age, they will find it much easier to become fluent.”
Harwell resident Geraldine Seabrook, originally from Burgundy in France, is to send daughter Amelie, four, to the school.
Mrs Seabrook, whose husband Clive is English, said: “We are a multicultural family and we wanted to raise Amelie that way.
“It is a gift to the children to go to a school like that.”
Drayton resident Benedicte Yue’s daughters Lily-Rose, and India, both have places at the school.
Her two older children attend the European School.
Mrs Yue is French, and her husband, Lindsay, is from Mauritius. She said: “We are very excited.
“It’s going to be very multicultural and enable us to continue the ethos of the European School and also be more open to English families as well. There will be more integration with the local community which is great.”
Education secretary's flagship policy
Free Schools are, like Academies, free from local authority control.
That means they have greater control over the curriculum, their budgets and the make up of the school day. They are funded by the tax payer, non-selective and don’t charge fees.
Academies tend to be existing schools that are then “converted”, where as the Free Schools idea is aimed at creating new ones.
Free Schools can be set up by a number of interested parties, including parents, charities, teachers and businesses.