Monday 4 June 2012

Free school still an option in Brent's school places plans

The dispute within Brent Labour about whether to pursue a free school partnership option to address the school places shortage appears to have been won by the 'pro' faction. Their argument had been that the priority was to get unplaced children into school and that by entering into partnerships the council could exercise some degree of control over the type of free school set up in the borough. The counter argument was that free schools undermine local authority schools, disrupt the systematic planning of school places, lack democratic accountability, and may reinforce class and religious divisions.

A report going  before the Children and Young People Overview and Scrutiny Committee on June 13th states:
In line with many other authorities, the Council is also exploring the potential for working with free school providers. There is government funding available for the development of free schools and any new schools that open are most likely to be Free Schools or Academies.
The report notes that an application by a Christian group for a free school in Brent is currently being considered by the DFE to open in September 2013.  The 'Bishop House School' would have space for 210 pupils (a one form entry primary). No location has been announced and an internet search has not yet yielded any  information about the school. Is Brent Council considering going into partnership to set up a Christian school?

The report sets out expansion plans that have taken place and are in the pipeline including 'non-traditional' ways such as the use of non-school buildings as 'satellites' to existing schools. Currently this includes the provision of two classes at the old Preston Library which will come under Preston Park Primary whose headteacher has also just been drafted into Park Lane Primary School following the suspension of its headteacher.

Interestingly the report is silent about the future of the Gwenneth Rickus (above) building in Brentfield Road. This was formerly part of the Sladebrook High School and is currently the Centre for Staff Development for Brent teachers. It is due to be closed in Summer 2013 and staff (if any survive the restructuring of the School Improvement Service) moved to the Civic Centre in Wembley.

The building has been refurbished to high standards with many energy saving features and could easily be adapted for a school building. However, there are rumours that it is to be put on the open market. Would a free school make a bid or will it be converted into flats on the model of the Dudden Hill school building?

Another option that is mentioned briefly but with no detail could be explored by the committee.  Land has been set aside in the Quintain development near Wembley Stadium for a possible new school. It is in  Fulton Road behind the retail park and would be financed through Section 106 funds.  The possibility of a school on the site was mentioned during consultations on the Wembley Area Plan with some concerns expressed about the need for action on 'dirty neighbours' such as waste processing plants.

The report states that as of 1st May 2012 388 children of statutory school age in Brent were without a school place. Parents had rejected 12 of only 14 places offered. There are 978 vacancies in Brent but 'these are not necessarily in the right geographical location of they may be vacancies in faith schools not available for all children'. Surely the latter point is one to be kept in mind if the council decides to form a free school partnership with a Christian organisation?

Brent has received capital funding recently to provide additional school places but the report predicts that on present projections it will not resolve the shortage: 'There is an extremely strong case for continuing to conduct a robust lobbying campaign in conjunction with London Councils'.

I would support such a campaign but I think that it should include demands that funds should be available to build new local authority schools, rather than academies or free schools.

1 comment:

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