A CHRISTIAN group's plans to open a large secondary school have taken a major step forward after more than 500 families pledged their support.

Oasis Community Learning, in partnership with the parent-run Walthamstow Secondary School Initiative (WSSI), says it will now apply to the government for permission to open the 'free school' after securing the names in a petition. 

The show of support is vital because the government will only approve plans for new free schools if management can demonstrate there is demand from parents.

The organisation has identified several buildings in "central Walthamstow" where the school could be located, but it is not allowed to say exactly where because the government will be helping to negotiate over and pay for  the site.

It hopes to open the school in 2014 with an initial intake of 180 Year 7 pupils, which will increase year-on-year until it reaches its capacity of 1,080 children.

Mum-of-three Jen Powell, who founded WSSI before choosing to work with Oasis, said: “We are thrilled to have received the overwhelming support of local parents in Walthamstow for our proposal to create a new secondary school here.

"We look forward to continuing to work with Oasis as we consult with the wider community in Walthamstow and engage them with our plans.

"We would like to thank all those who have helped us with the campaign to date and urge anyone who would like to be involved to get in touch”.

Oasis describes its work as "motivated and inspired by the life, message and example of Christ."

However it insists the school will be "fully inclusive", accepting children irrespective of their religion or ability.

As a free school it would receive its funding direct from the government and be independent from council control, although it would still have to abide by the national curriculum.

Critics say free schools take valuable resources out of the education economy and disadvantage schools in poorer areas.

But Oasis says the new school would help tackle the borough's chronic shortage of pupil places, which the government predicts will top 7,000 by 2015/16.

Its founder Steve Chalke said: “I am delighted and encouraged by the response of local parents in Walthamstow to our plans for a new secondary school.

"Oasis looks forward to developing a community hub around the new school which will offer activities and services for students, their families and the wider community in partnership with local organisations”.