First day for the only education show in town

As Michael Gove's free schools open their doors, Richard Garner joins the queue

It was unlike the start of term in most schools – even if it did not quite smack of revolution in the air. Children, dressed smartly in their brand new purple uniforms, began queueing to get in a full hour before lessons began at Aldborough E-ACT.

Then the principal, also resplendent in a purple dress, acknowledged she had to fight back a tear as she welcomed them and their parents to one of the first of Education Secretary Michael Gove's new "free" schools.

A second, the Krishna Avanti Hindu primary school in Leicester, also opened to pupils yesterday – giving the schools the joint honour of being the first free schools to open to pupils.

Farhana Shaukat, a mother of three triplets, gave a clue as to why the pupils were queuing up outside. "They get bored with the holidays," she said.

In which case, the school in Redbridge, east London, could be the school for them. One of its innovative features is that it is scrapping the long summer holidays – reducing them to four weeks to stop children forgetting too much of what they have learnt.

"I was considering private education," said Faisal Shaukat, father of the triplets, Rija, Aayan and Hiba, all aged four, "but it would have been very expensive. Then this came along – a privately run school but a free school."

He said he had chosen it because he believed it would be likely to be more receptive to parents' ideas than an ordinary state-run school.

Of course, Aldborough does not quite fit the original vision outlined by Mr Gove of parents and teachers getting together to run their own schools. It is run by E-ACT, an education charity which already sponsors 13 academies. However, it did its homework finding an area of London where parents were struggling to find enough places for their children.

This year starts with 60 in its reception class and 60 in the first year. It will gradually build up to 420 pupils. It is "almost full" after not getting the final go-ahead until June, by which time some prospective parents in what Nicola Perry, the principal, describes as an "aspirational" area had already enrolled their children at private schools. When they asked for a refund so they could attend Aldborough, they were turned down.

E–ACT is planning to open two more free schools. One, being sponsored by Highgate – the independent school – will be in Haringey, north London. The second is in Ealing, where E–ACT is bidding against the Church of England for a vacant school site.

The site was to have been for a new school before Mr Gove brought the curtain down on the school building programme. Free schools, it seems, are now the only show in town.

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