Friday, 25 February 2011

Unequal Access to Education in Brent

There is increasing disquiet in Brent about the perceived shift of the  borough's centre of gravity towards Wembley. Nowhere is this clearer  than in the distribution of secondary schools. There are only four schools open to all pupils south of the North Circular Road (counting Crest girls and boys as two schools) which include three academies. In the north there are seven, including one academy; five are in the Wembley area.  After special needs and  sibling connection the main criterion for admission is distance from the  school which clearly disadvantages pupils from the south when applying  for schools in the north.

This inequality will be exacerbated if Preston Manor, Wembley High and Alperton follow the ARK in opening a primary school and giving priority  to those pupils in gaining access to their secondary departments. Preston Manor has already stated that it will reduce the number of  places in its secondary school available for external applications by 60.

Despite my best efforts I have not been able to persuade the council to make the case for  all-through schools or to provide an equalities impact assessment of the expansion plans. It seems that the pressure of  providing additional places in the short-term has blinded the council to the long-term implications.

The danger is that secondary schools  seeking primary provision in the face of the all-through competition from the ARK Academy, will also seek academy status on the same basis. The local education authority, already weakened by cuts, will lose further funding and will relinquish its role in ensuring fair admissions procedures and an equal distribution of school places.

The paucity of secondary places in the south of the borough will provide a rationale for private providers to seek to set up a free school (a school set up by individuals or a charity, using tax payers money, but outside the control of the local authority) in the area with a further loss of funding to the local authority. A 'bare bones' authority would offer so little to primary schools  that there would be little incentive to them resisting going it alone and seeking academy status.

This would mean the end of democratic accountability of our schools.

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