Tuesday 6 March 2012

Will Brent Labour sell-out on free schools?

In January it appeared that Brent Labour was ready to gear up to defend community schools when they held an Education Conference for members and Labour governors on academies and free schools.  They decided to be more proactive in making the argument for schools to remain within the Brent 'family of schools' working with the local authority, rather than to convert to academy status. LINK

I welcomed this move but it appears that Brent Council officers have stepped in quickly to thwart any attempt at independent thinking. On Monday in a presentation to the Labour Group Brent Council officers recommended that Brent Council should collaborate with the Coalition's free school policy and actively seek partners to set up free schools.  It is unlikely that they would have been such a move without at least the tacit support of Ann John, Labour leader.  John was late for the Education Conference as she and Muhammed Butt were at an Area Consultative Forum making their presentation on the budget.

The suggestion provoked a lot of discussion at the Labour Group but no decisions were taken.  It will now go to the LGC on Thursday as an emergency item.  It will be interesting to see if Labour members let Brent Council officers dictate policy, or whether they take a stand on Michael Gove's  policy that undermines local authority school provision and commandeers  a disproportionate slice of the education budget.

Meanwhile Brent Council's provision of school improvement services will be discussed with governors at two meetings (Wednesday March 14th 10am-Noon, Thursday 22nd March 2012 7pm-9pm). Unfortunately the latter coincides with the Dollis Hill by-election which will rule attendance out for quite a few people.

The two issues are connected because one of the arguments for academy conversion or free schools is that local education authorities are now so weak that they cannot provide adequate services and they they do not represent good value.

Brent Council is proposing that in 2013-14 it only offers a core statutory service which will be provided free to schools. Everything else will be subject to 'self-funded trading arrangements' which means that schools will have to make their own arrangements and pay for them themselves.  Apart from amounting to an actual cut in the schools' budgets this also removes a major part of the argument for staying with the local authority.

Brent Council seems to be in the process of opting out of its education authority role unless urgent action is taken by those who support community schools and democratic accountability.

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