FREE schools like the one being opened by the Harris Federation in Thurrock are the key to turning round the fortunes of the area’s ailing schools, a government minister has said.

Education minister Liz Truss made the comments on a visit to the Harris Primary Academy, Chafford Hundred, with Thurrock MP Jackie Doyle-Price and federation sponsor Lord Harris on Friday [May 2].

The Tory peer and MPs visited on the day of the school’s Ofsted inspection after it was recommended to Ms Truss by ‘super head’ Sir Robin Bosher due to its flexible hours for commuting parents.

It was judged to require improvement at its inspection in 2012 but Ms Truss said academies like it and the Harris Free School which opens in September were the key to pulling up primary schools in Thurrock – which has been in Ofsted’s bottom three for the percentage of good or outstanding schools for two years running.

“Free schools encourage other schools to raise their game and, in Thurrock’s case, it’s going to be run by Harris, which is a very good academy group,” she said.

“I can see the success already in this school – it’s oversubscribed and excellent that parents have access to a really good quality education.

“I can I can see it in the attitudes of the children, they’re so motivated and are very positive about the teaching, about the subjects, their learning and what they’re going to do with it.”

She said she did not believe there was an issue for competition with groups like Harris taking over multiple schools in an area, as there were always other groups such as the Gateway Learning Community, which could be objectively assessed through Ofsted league tables.

Ms Doyle-Price, who invited Lord Harris to inspect the school’s sixth form he paid for, added: “Thurrock is a very good example of a step change in the direction of education since the council has been pushed out of it – schools haven’t been able to become academies quick enough.”