The Department for Education has confirmed that the Folkestone Free School will open in September 2018 as the successor school to Pent Valley. This announcement delivers on the promise made when it was decided that Pent Valley was to close; that there would be a new school to replace it, on the same site, and delivering for the needs of local families. The new school will be created and run by Turner Schools, an East Kent based academy trust, which has also recently taken over two primary schools in Folkestone; Morehall and Martello Grove.
The decision to approve the bid from Turner Schools to run the new school was made by the Department for Education, after an open competition. Dr Jo Saxton, the founder and chief executive of Turner Schools, was formerly the head of the Future Academies group of schools in London, which has a successful track record in launching new schools and delivering better results for students. My wife Sarah has previously worked with Jo Saxton as a school governor of one the Future Academies, and is also an unpaid Director of Turner Schools. Jo Saxton has also worked for the Education Minister, Lord Nash, and has been a Trustee of the influential New Schools Network, which is now run by Toby Young, one of the leading advocates of the Free School movement.
I know Turner Schools has been working to develop strong links to major local employers, like Eurotunnel, to understand more about the skills needed in the jobs market. In particular, the opportunity for young people with French language skills to work for major firms that have interests both in Kent, and on the other side of the Channel. Jo Saxton has also met with other local education providers, including secondary schools and East Kent College, to understand how the new Folkestone Free School can best work with them. The founding of this new school is another significant investment in raising educational standards in Shepway for all young people, and I look forward to its opening, which will be in less that 18 months’ time.
Last week the government also announced the route for the Lower Thames crossing, which will be a bored tunnel crossing under the River Thames east of Gravesend, and Tilbury in Essex. This is a major investment that will ease congestion on the M25 at Dartford, by creating a new route for traffic moving from the east of England to the Channel coast. This new crossing will provide more than 70% additional road capacity across the river, connecting Essex and Kent, unlocking billions of pounds in investment and creating thousands of new jobs. Whilst this project is still at an early stage of development it is an important piece of infrastructure for Kent. Along with this, the government should also bring forward proposals to complete the dual carriageway on the A2 to Dover, to create a robust route for road freight heading to the Channel Ports from the new Lower Thames Crossing.