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The first of the government’s controversial free schools to be set up in Islington was announced by education minister Michael Gove on Friday.

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Mary Magdelene Academy, in Liverpool Road, Holloway, has been given permission to set up The Courtyard, a special school situated in the old coroner’s court adjacent to the church grounds.

The new school is set to open in September 2013 and will have space for 36 students, aged between 15 and 19, who are highly functioning but have autistic disorder.

Like all free schools it is funded directly by the government rather than the council, and will have freedom to teach what it wants, as long as it’s judged to be fair and balanced.

But some people are critical of free schools, and academies, because they take money away from local authorities.

Ken Muller, assistant branch secretary of Islington National Union of Teachers (NUT), said: “We are totally opposed to free schools because they undermine the school system and give disproportionate amounts of money to these schools at the expense of others in the borough.

“They are also a step toward privatisation of education and away from locally accountable state schools.”

Paul Hollingum, head teacher of Mary Magdelene, said: “There is no private company in the background and we don’t need a lot of capital because we are converting the old coroner’s building.

“The local authority is keen to support us in this and we interviewed a lot of parents who were in favour.

“We are offering something that is desperately needed in the borough and creating much-needed jobs and services.

“It would be terrible to disadvantage these children because of a political agenda.”

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