In September 2014, a primary free school with three forms of entry was due to open in Romford to meet basic need in the area. The London Borough of Havering worked closely with the ESFA and the potential sponsor on the bid for the school.
In August 2014, a month before the school was due to open, the local authority was notified that the project was going to be delayed due to issues with land purchase. The council was forced to find school places for over 40 children who were set to start at the school the next month. The following year the sponsor decided not to take on the project after all, and the school’s opening was delayed again while the ESFA sought a new sponsor. In 2016 the school was opened with a single form of entry on a temporary site, forcing the sponsor to organise bus services for the children to travel a few miles to attend school.
The local authority has been forced to add last-minute bulge classes to existing schools in the area for three years while waiting for the free school to open. This has put a significant amount of pressure on surrounding schools. Havering has coped through working quickly with a strong community of schools that understand the demand and the challenge, but the situation is unsustainable due to rising demand for places. Furthermore, some parents do not want to send their children to the school on a temporary site and the reputation of free schools more generally in the local area has been tarnished by this situation. While some of the issues causing the delays were unavoidable, the ESFA could have provided better support to Havering to deal with the consequences. The lack of transparency and last minute communication with the local authority meant that Havering was left with little time to rectify the situation to meet its statutory duty to provide sufficient places for local children. The borough also had to use funding from other capital budgets to create places in neighbouring schools, as the Basic Need allocations provided by the DfE did not include additional funding to compensate the council for the costs of the delay. The local authority is hopeful that the school will open on a permanent site in 2018 – four years later than planned.