Churches plan new secondary school

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A NEW secondary Free School called The Oasis Southwater Community School could be built in the village at a cost of about £25 million, it was revealed this week.

Horsham Churches Together is preparing an application for a Christian ethos school with its own chaplaincy for children aged 11 to 16 years with six forms of entry, taking 180 pupils a year.

It is also possible that the school would include its own sixth form, taking pupils up to A Level - but no decision has yet been taken and the idea has been ruled neither in nor out.

The organisation, representing 32 churches from across the denominations, is now working to identify a site and preparing to consult with residents, particularly prospective parents of students, ready to submit its bid by February 24.

If the application is accepted by the government and planning permission granted quickly, year seven students could be using the school in September 2014.

The school would be primarily for Southwater children but would have an open admissions policy and be inclusive of pupils from all backgrounds.

The inspiration for the scheme came from Southwater itself and the school would also provide a community hub.

Horsham Churches Together selected Oasis Community Learning as an education sponsor to submit the application and operate the school.

Bryan Steele, development worker for Horsham Churches Together, said there was a need for a new secondary school in the area due to the projected growth in pupil numbers.

“It would mean doubling the size of one of the existing schools or to build a school in Southwater where 1,000 children are bussed off to school every day,” he said.

“Southwater is the preferred location so that is a need we are responding to.

“We would hope those in Southwater see an opportunity to choose a school children could walk to and the opportunity for there to be more of a sense of community.

“There may still be people who want to apply to other schools and there may be people in Horsham who want to put Southwater on their list of preferences.”

One possible site had been identified by Berkeley Homes but they would be investigating other options and the application did not need to be aligned to a development, he said.

If the scheme wins government approval funding for it would be provided for it. “Horsham Churches Together believes in delivering projects to bless the local community,” he said and this was building on existing work such as the joint youth work project between the churches and parish council.

Other work includes The Centre, with a cafe and ‘listening ear’, Horsham Matters, delivering practical support to the community, the Youth Support Team and E:live8, an early intervention programme raising the aspirations and prospects of young people.

Oasis Community Learning has a track record of delivering successful schools, 14 to date, which not only deliver excellent education but also a community hub that is consistent with Horsham Churches Together’s values, Mr Steele said.

“Oasis is excited at the opportunity to work with Horsham Churches Together to develop a Free School in Southwater.

“In this role, working together, we will offer young people the depth of education, breadth of support and spectrum of opportunity that they deserve as well as playing a major role in continuing to develop a safe and vibrant community,” said Oasis founder Steve Chalke.

The application will be submitted to the government by Oasis and in the meantime Horsham Churches Together is going to hold meetings for people to find out more and raise questions. Its plan was revealed to Southwater Parish Council last night by Mr Steele and Mr Chalke.

West Sussex county councillor for Southwater Brad Watson said he had not been involved in discussions.

“My initial reaction is that if a group wishes to invest such a significant amount of money in Southwater to provide good quality senior education which the county council cannot afford it must worthy of very serious study.”

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