Andrew Pettit
Andrew Pettit

The head of Newark’s free school has described his new job as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

“This is a fantastic opportunity to grow a school from the ground up,” said Mr Andrew  Pettit, who will take the helm at The Suthers School.

“This is not an established environment. There is nothing that is pre-existing or predetermined.

“It represents a fantastic opportunity where every child can be the best they possibly can, no matter what their starting point.

“You could say it is my dream job and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

The Suthers School is due to open in September in temporary accommodation before new multi-million-pound premises are built near Fernwood Business Park.

A question mark does, however, surround its planned opening at premises at Toot Hill School, Bingham, because of the General Election result.

The funding agreement for The Suthers School is still to be signed, amid ongoing negotiations by Prime Minister Theresa May to form a majority government.

“We are still working hard for the 2017 opening but plans have had to be delayed slightly because of the General Election — there needs to be a secretary of state to sign off the agreement,” Mr Pettit said.

“We want 2017. We are grateful that parents have shown us such commitment.

“We are looking forward to working with them to make The Suthers School a very good school.

“We hope their children will be our vanguard — that this cohort will be our most treasured alumni of the future.

“We are grateful for the patience and tenacity of our parents on our 2017 year seven intake. They have given us such fantastic backing and support.”

Choices for parents

Mr Pettit was previously assistant head at a secondary school in Kettering, where he worked for nine years.

Prior to that he worked in other secondary schools.

The Suthers School is part of the Nova Education Trust (previously Torch) which runs Toot Hill and Newark Academy.

The trust also has experience in opening and operating the Nottingham Free School.

Mr Pettit said if The Suthers School did not open this year he would work elsewhere within the trust while preparing everything for a 2018 start.

Parents hoping to send children to The Suthers School should have made two choices for September  2017 — the free school and another so they are guaranteed a place.

If all goes to plan, the new school will open temporarily in the former youth club building at the Toot Hill site that is undergoing a £½m renovation.

Pupils will use Toot Hill’s facilities, including for sport.

Mr Pettit said as the school would initially be in Bingham he recognised it was logistically difficult for Newark parents, so free buses would be provided for that period.

A school uniform will also be provided free for the first intake.

Mr Pettit said temporary sites had been investigated in Newark, including the former Lilley and Stone School, but none were suitable.

Extended working day

Going forward, it is hoped The Suthers School will open at Fernwood in September, 2019.

The new building would be designed around an extended working day, as well as community use.

The size of the site is described as generous and will provide indoor and outdoor sporting facilities — with the input of Sport England — as well as a theatre.

It is in the design stage with ground-breaking expected early in 2018, subject to planning with completion in spring/summer 2019.

The year seven and eight pupils from the Toot Hill site would transfer to the new premises, and a new year seven intake would start there.

The Suthers School would then grow by a new year seven intake every year until it was a full complement with a sixth form.

Its catchment area will include Fernwood and Middlebeck — the name given to the first wave of houses that will be built as part of the Growth Point development south of Newark.

There are plans for another 2,850 homes at Fernwood, and up to 3,500 as part of the Growth Point.

No competition for pupils with Newark Academy

Mr Pettit said he hoped the new-build school would kick-start further development of Fernwood Business Park.

The Suthers School would be a third secondary school for Newark, along with Newark Academy and the Magnus Church of England Academy.

Mr Pettit said that despite the close proximity, The Suthers School and Newark Academy would not be competing for pupils.

He said he had already held a positive meeting with academy head Mr Andy Seymour.

Mr Pettit said for the first time Newark parents would have a choice and that both parents and children would be empowered by that choice.

“I am confident that with the strides already being taken to improve both the academy and Magnus, parents will have the very best education offerings for their children,” he said.

He said teaching offered at The Suthers School would be cutting edge and focussed on personal development.

Asked about previous under- investment in Newark secondary schools, Mr Pettit said: “I am excited to be involved in reversing that trend.

“Newark is an amazing town with amazing potential and I want to see secondary school education reflect that.”

It is hoped The Suthers School will help to stem the flow of Newark pupils out of the town for secondary education.

The influx of Newark pupils to Toot Hill is one of the reasons it is currently oversubscribed.