In a class of its own

Langdale School has become Blackpool's first free independant school.  Pictured is Frazer Harrison and Skye Haslam with teacher Kara Hansell.
Langdale School has become Blackpool's first free independant school. Pictured is Frazer Harrison and Skye Haslam with teacher Kara Hansell.
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HEADTEACHER Carol Stallard probably doesn’t need to go to the gym.

Her office at Langdale School is on the top floor, up three steep flights of stairs.

“It certainly keeps you fit,” she shouts over her shoulder as she jogs upwards.

Hers isn’t your average headteacher’s office, essentially a converted attic space. But then again, Langdale isn’t your average school.

Tucked away on a residential street in North Shore (it’s easy to mistake it for one of the many other red-brick houses on Warbreck Drive in Bispham), it has only three classes, each containing 18 pupils.

But it is soon to make history, becoming Blackpool’s first ever free school.

Hang on a minute, we can almost hear you say, aren’t all state primary schools free?

Well, yes, but they aren’t ‘free’ schools – or not in the way the Government looks at it.

Free schools are a flagship part of the Tory’s education reforms, and allow groups of parents, teachers or charities to establish their own school. They are all-ability, state-funded schools, inspected by Ofsted.

Which still doesn’t sound too different to your average primary school, so probably best to let Langdale’s headteacher explain.

“I’ve worked in state education in central Blackpool for 25 years, and I’m a fierce believer that education can change children’s lives and should be free for all,” says Mrs Stallard. “I became principal at Langdale – which was fee-paying – last year. The school already had the idea of applying to become a free school, with the initial spark of interest coming from the parents.

“So I led an application to the Government to become a free school and I am really excited that we got it.

“Now it is all about working with the Department of Education, and getting ourselves ready to become a free school next September.”

Which is all very well, though what can Langdale offer that differs from your average state school?

“The main differences are that as a free school we will have more freedom with our curriculum. We can choose how we deliver it whereas state schools are more dictated to,” says Mrs Stallard.

“Our funding will be directly from the Government, so we are free from local education authority control, and that also means we have the freedom to keep the same class sizes.

“Part of what I think makes Langdale special is that we have 18 children per class, which creates a friendly, close-knit atmosphere, where everybody knows everyone else. That will stay the same, but we will go from three classes to seven.”

Even seven classes won’t be enough to satisfy the demand for places, with the school receiving phone calls galore from parents since the news broke that it would no longer cost to send children to Langdale. The number of pupils will rise from 70 to 126 for the school’s first year as a free school. To cater for the increase, an extra building will be opened.

“Physically, we need to do that,” adds Mrs Stallard. “But we will be very careful how we do things because we don’t want to lose what we’ve got.”

Mrs Stallard certainly knows the local area – she grew up in North Shore and went to Claremont and Greenlands school, now Bispham High.

And she wants to make sure she offers the best education possible, for all.

“We want to cater for ordinary local families, and compliment what is out there in Blackpool,” adds Mrs Stallard.

“Yes, it will be hard work and challenging to get a free school going, but we have the advantage of knowing we already have a tried and tested product, an already thriving school. I can’t wait for next year to see how it all goes.”

n THE usual selection process will apply when it comes to choosing which children can attend Langdale. Call (01253) 354812 for more information.