Schools are back this week and there’s a new kid on the block.  I’m delighted that Chichester Free School will be providing a new option for parents in West Sussex.  

Chichester is one of 93 new free schools opening this month, doubling the number now available across the country.

The new school has been built on the Vinnetrow Business Park, near Chichester, after its funding was confirmed by the Education Secretary, Michael Gove, in July.

I remember when the school’s promoters, including former teachers, came to see about their plan.  It’s tremendous that the free school policy has enabled them to set up a new school.

Free schools exist within the state sector – they are not fee paying.  Chichester will be providing 210 new places for local children.

More places have also been needed in our primary schools.  When I was elected in 2005, the fear was that small village primaries in the South Downs would be under threat for lack of demand.

In fact, the birth rate over the last decade has been the highest since the 1950s and schools in some villages became oversubscribed.

Parents who couldn’t get their children into schools in Hassocks and Hurstpierpoint were understandably upset and came to see me about the problem.

I’m pleased that, especially thanks to the efforts of County Councillor Peter Griffiths, these schools have expanded to accommodate the local need.

St Lawrence’s in Hurst will also become the first South Downs primary to convert to an academy, something I very much welcome.  Academy status has been a positive step for the schools that have taken it.

Midhurst Rother Academy has gone from having some of the poorest results in the county to now having some of the best.  This year the school, which was given an ‘Outstanding’ Ofsted rating earlier this year, had its best ever A Level results and put in a very strong performance in the toughened-up GCSEs.

I was pleased to see that other schools in the South Downs also improved their results and I congratulate them and all the young people who’ve done well in their A Level and GCSEs.

Parents want a good local school with high standards, to give their children the best possible chance in life.  That is why I believe that the Government’s education reforms are so important.

Christopher N Howarth