New Eastbourne free school will be ready in three months’ time, promises headteacher

Lea Gilbert, Gildredge House head teacher, oversees the new building work
Lea Gilbert, Gildredge House head teacher, oversees the new building work

Gildredge House Free School was given planning permission last week and now building work has begun to get the school ready for pupils in just three months’ time.

Lea Gilbert, headteacher at the school, said it had been an exciting journey as she watched the building work taking place this week.

Mrs Gilbert said, “It is now seven months since I first became involved in this exciting project which I could immediately see had such incredible potential.”

The project started with only a handful of people involved, no location had been found and there was simply a vision and ethos. At the end of 2011 the site at Compton Place Road was identified as a result of comprehensive research by a member of the steering group.

However, the project has not been without its hitches and earlier this year members of the steering committee went their separate ways after what has been described as a ‘difference of opinion’.

Edward Board, who had been involved since the start has now left the project following the row.

However, in a letter to the Herald he said it was not a ‘row’.

Mr Board explained, “There were irregularities surrounding the actions of some of the governing body. Mrs Gilbert sided with a group of governors, only one of whom was not getting paid. The founding community members were attempting to remedy the situation.”

In a previous interview with the Herald Mrs Gilbert said it was ‘naive’ to think local companies could complete all aspects of the project.

But Mr Board said, “This was a focus of the original Trust. We were reaching out to local companies and suppliers.”

Mr Board says the school will now not be ‘the marvellous place’ he wanted it to be and added, “Not a single one of the governors on the new trust were involved from the inception of the project, and not a single one understands what we set out to achieve.”

However, this is denied by the new Gildredge House Free School Trust and a spokesperson from the school said, “Two of the governors, who continue to be on the Trust today, along with representatives from Place Group and School Business Services, were interviewed by the DfE and were instrumental in gaining approval by the DfE for the pre-approval stage and securing the lead-in budget.

“Committees were then set up including Education and Standards and Communications and these were chaired by governors who remain on the new Trust today.”

Mr Board argues the original ethos has been lost and added, “All they have done so far is to parrot the ideas laid down at beginning, but have little idea how they would be realised.

He added, “We have been excluded and can no longer guide the project.”

Much of this is denied by Lea Gilbert. She told the Herald the Trust has moved forward from the argument which happened back in March.

She said, “Now that I am full time in post at Gildredge House, I witness on a daily basis the commitment and dedication of the governors and steering group members, the majority of whom became involved when the project was a mere concept, before DfE approval. Along with the newer members of our team, they volunteer huge amounts of their time to progress the school towards opening in September and are committed to delivering the highest quality education.”

The school has been over-subscribed and will take 56 Reception pupils and 120 Year Seven pupils this September.

It will continue this pattern and be up to full capacity of 1,192 pupils, to include a sixth form, by 2019.