Friday, 1 October 2010

Preston Manor on Academy Road?

In August I high-lighted the fact the School Places document going before the Council Executive during the school summer holiday included proposals for an expansion of Preston Manor High School into an 'all-through' 5-19 school.

Things have moved quickly since then. Matthew Lantos, headteacher of Preston Manor, presented his plans to the governing body at their September meeting. There was disquiet because this was the first most of the governors had heard of the proposal despite the School Places document stating: Preston Manor Secondary School: has agreed to house temporary accommodation for two Reception classes on the school site from January
2011. The school has principally agreed to provide permanent primary provision from September 2011 (
my emphasis). Further discussions need to take place with the governing body.

 Nevertheless the governors agreed to consult on on whether respondents agreed to support 'the proposal to expand Preston Manor High School by creating a two form entry permanent primary provision from September 2011." Consultation paper HERE

The consultees list includes Preston Manor High School (parents,staff, student council), all maintained schools in Brent; Westminster Diocesan Education Service, the London Boroughs of Ealing, Camden, Hammersmith and Fulham, Barnet, Harrow, Westminster and the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea; Trade Unions, Brent MPs, Admissions Forum, local Residents Associations, councillors, London Diocesan Board for Schools and the Brent Governors Forum.

All these organisations are expected to respond by October 25th despite the fact that many schools will not have a scheduled governing body meeting by then.The Preston Manor governing body will then consider publication of a statutory notice by 1st November.  If it decides to go ahead there will then be a formal six week consultation with the Council Executive making a final decision in January 2011.

As with the ARK the decision is foreshadowed (pre-empted?) by a temporary 2 form entry Reception  building on the site to be erected in January 2011.

The document is based on meeting the need for primary places because of the growth in Brent's population but no data is supplied providing evidence that there is a need in this particular area of Brent. No assessment is made of the potential impact on the roll of other local primary schools.

The document states that "the LA consulted with primary schools in the borough to explore the possibility of increasing the number of school places." As a Brent school governor I challenge whether any such formal consultation has taken place - instead there have been a number of informal discussions and an ad hoc series of decisions made to add a 'bulge class' to some schools (a one-off class in a particular year that moves through the school as an additional class in that cohort) or increasing the form of entry of some schools..  The process seems neither well-researched or well thought out and my fear is that there may be repercussions later when demand stabilises and some schools find themselves with half-empty classes with a consequent detrimental impact on their budgets.

Informed sources suggest that Matthew Lantos sees this as the only way that Preston Manor can compete with the ARK Academy just down the road. Year 7 pupils started at ARK this term as the first cohort in the secondary school.

The danger is that once (if?) the all-through school is approved that Lantos will then decide that the only way to fully compete with the ARK is for Preston Manor to seek academy status - otherwise the ARK would have the edge in terms of finance, curriculum flexibility and the ability to decide its own teachers' salary structure and conditions of service. If  Preston Manor becomes an academy that could start a domino effect with other Brent high schools feeling that they have to take the academy route in order to compete.

This was exactly what happened in the 1990s when Claremont, Kingsbury, Convent of Jesus and Mary, Queens Park, and Copland high schools all applied for self-governing Grant Maintained Status, creating problems for Wembley High and the then Willesden High. Willesden was designated a failing school and became the first City Academy in Brent.

If this were to happen Brent Council would be in the position of losing a lot of money to the academies with a detrimental impact on the remaining schools, special needs provision and other services. In turn poor local authority support and provision  could lead to more schools opting for academy status and thus ending democratic control of local education.  This is not so far-fetched: Surrey Council is in talks with the DfE over plans to convert all its secondary schools to academy status.

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