MORE than 30 youngsters are lined up to join Oxford’s first free school when it opens in September.

The opening of the Tyndale Community School has been controversial to say the least, not because of its Christian ethos, but simply because of its location.

It will be opening in the former Lord Nuffield Club in Cowley which will have been empty for four years by then.

The school has now revealed that 34 pupils have already been confirmed to attend the primary school, with more children signing up by the week.

Principal Liz Russo said: “There are a few more who are thinking about it. Our capacity is 60 and for the first year we would never have expected to be full.

“We would like to have committed families who we can build our culture with.”

The primary school is intended to have more than 400 pupils by 2019.

It is being opened by the Chapel Street Community Schools Trust and Oxford Community Church.

While the group says the school will have a “religious character” it is open to people of all faiths and none and aims to be a school and facility for the community.

But the opening of the school this autumn was no done deal.

Oxford City Council threw out the scheme in March saying the club buildings off Barracks Lane were too small and the proposal would generate too much traffic.

Large numbers of objections had been received from Cowley residents, expressing fears the school would add to the area’s gridlock.

However the Government has relaxed rules to allow development of free schools in almost any building for one year without permission.

This means the school will open in part of the building in September while a planning appeal is ruled on by a government inspector.

The free school system was introduced by the Government in 2010 and allows parents, teachers, charities and businesses to set up their own schools.

These establishments are given more freedom on what they can teach which some view with concern because the schools – many of which are set up by religious organisations – will veer away from the national curriculum.

But the Government expects them to offer a broad and balanced curriculum.

Oxfordshire already has one free school – the Europa School in Culham which opened last year to provide a language-based education.

And county councillor Melinda Tilley, the cabinet member for education, has welcomed the new school as a solution to the area’s shortage of places.

She said: “We’re supportive of the school because we need more places and it seems like a good bid.

“Traffic is always a concern wherever we extend a school or build a school.

“I have never known that not be a concern.”

If planning permission is granted on appeal building work – such as turning the squash courts into a kitchen – will take place over the coming academic year.

Miss Russo said: “We are very happy with the appeal process and we felt it was very fair. The inspector tried to spend as much time as possible listening to both sides of the story.

“We are confident about the outcome.”

She added that much of the work to allow the building to open in September is aesthetic and could be completed in a “few weeks”.

Case Study

‘It is about its philosophy, not just the religion’

COWLEY resident Harry Strachan is sending his four-year-old son Levi to the school in September.

The 40-year-old, who is a Christian, said the school’s community philosophy attracted him as much as its faith background.

He said: “I was attracted by the philosophy which is fantastic. The location for us personally was really good as well.

“This school is needed. There are families in the area struggling to get their children into local schools.

“Because of our faith it is something that appealed to us, but that’s not the be-all and end- all of it.”

He said the family heard about the school last October and after carrying out some research on it decided it was for them “almost straight away”.

Mr Strachan said: “The building issue did certainly feature in our minds and we wanted to know where our child is going to go.

“Levi cannot wait. He is asking every day when he is going to go to school.”