NORTH Cestrian Grammar School’s decision to abolish its fees and apply to become a free school has proved deeply controversial among secondary school headteachers in the borough.

An open letter signed by 10 heads in south and north Trafford has expressed grave concern over the proposal, which, if approved by education chiefs, will take effect from September 2015.

The letter signed by secondary school heads ranging from Broadoak to Wellacre Academy says the change in status could influence the outcome of a Trafford Council led consultation over the provision of school places in the future.

It also said headteachers were concerned about the financial costs involved in the proposed change in status, adding ‘we are unsure what effect this will have on existing school budgets. It is our cynical belief that this could be a way of undependent schools using the grappling hook of free-school status to get them out of a financial mire.’ The letter concludes: ‘"Ironically North Cestrian intends to retain the ‘grammar’ title when in fact it will be a secondary modern."

Lee Bergin, headteacher at North Cestrian Grammar School, said: “We are disappointed by the content of this letter. North Cestrian Grammar School has received overwhelming support for our plans to become a Free School from staff, parents of our existing and potential new students and we remain keen to work with other schools on our road to achieving this.

“North Cestrian Grammar School is in a healthy financial state and we are in a position to be able to provide much needed secondary education places within Trafford, through our Free school status application. We want parents in the area to have more choice over where to school their children, rather than limit it. Ultimately, North Cestrian offers an established, inclusive education for all abilities.”

Executive Councillor for Education Mike Cornes said: “Trafford schools have an excellent reputation for high quality education provision and the authority will continue to support them.

“The Council has a responsibility to ensure there are sufficient school places in the borough to reflect parental choice. There is currently high demand for places within the Altrincham area and even with potential growth at other schools there is still likely to be excess demand, especially from 2017 onwards.

“The proposal is therefore welcomed in principle. The decision to grant Free School status will be made by the Department for Education.”

The open letter was signed by Stuart Beeley, Wellington School, Vicky Beer, CBE, Ashton on Mersey School, Peter Brooks, Altrincham College of Arts, Dawn Farrent, Lostock College, Andy Griffin, Broadoak School, James Haseldine, Stretford High School, Julie Hazeldine, Flixton Girls School, Tarun Kapur, CBE, The Dean Trust, Lynn Nichols, Sale High School and Melanie Wicks, Wellacre Academy.