THE WHEELS have been set in motion by Sandwell councillors for a controversial free school for girls to open in Oldbury.

Councillors voted overwhelmingly at a Labour group meeting to back London education company Capital Talent’s application for the brand new Sandwell High School for Girls.

Despite many Labour councillors being against Government backed free schools in principal, they voted for the plan as a practical measure to keep more girl pupils in Sandwell and reduce the chances of a religious free school opening in the borough.

Free schools are independent of the local authority, Government funded and can be run by companies, trusts or religious organisations and have the freedom to set their own school hours, teachers pay and conditions and curriculum.

Sandwell education supremo Councillor Bob Badham confirmed he was in “sensitive negotiations” concerning the proposed free school.

He said: “The Labour councillors voted near enough unanimously for the proposed Sandwell High School for Girls.

“There are over 800 girls in Sandwell who get educated outside of the borough, mostly in Birmingham, and this new school will help keep resources and pupils in the borough.

“There is an over-subscription of places for girls in Sandwell and there have been a lot of calls and lobbying of councillors for a girls school in the borough.”

Cllr Badham confirmed the school would not be a religious free school.

He said: “Sandwell High School for Girls will be non-demoninational and will teach about all religions but practice none and will accept children on a totally comprehensive basis.”

He added: “Capital Talent are very well respected and have a good track record in the education system and they are committed to Sandwell.”

Cradley Heath and Old Hill Councillor Ann Shackleton, who was a headteacher in Smethwick for 17 years, has spoken of her distrust of free schools.

She said: “Personally I am against the idea of free schools as not enough is known about them and I don’t agree with all girls schools either as we should not have segregation in our society.

“However, I do understand that there is a problem with girls in Sandwell leaving the borough to be educated and something needs to be done to stop this happening and hopefully this new school will solve the problem.”

She added: “I do hope this all girls free school will be the only one in the borough.”

More details about the proposed Sandwell High School for Girls will emerge when Capital Talent completes a formal application to the Department of Education to run the free school.