Saturday 11 August 2012

Brent Council to 'vigorously' pursue free schools

The middle of August is often the time when controversial proposals are published and this August is no exception. The Brent Executive on August 20th will be discussing a major report arising from a comprehensive review of educational provision in the borough.

The issue of free schools has divided Brent Labour Party and the report attempts to satisfy both sides of the debate.

Officers recommend that the Council should 'vigorously pursue' partnerships with free school providers as well as academy providers and notes that any new schools arising from Section 106 agreements with Quintain in Wembley (Fulton Road) and in Oriental City, would, under the current national framework, have to be academies or free schools. Such schools will be necessary because expansion of existing schools is not sufficient to meet anticipated demand and in order to utilise this funding stream to remove the need for prudential borrowing. They say  that the Council would have to be 'extremely careful' about identifying preferred providers and propose the following partnership commitment from potential free school and academies providers:

Academies and free school providers working with the Council will be expected to demonstrate:

1. An absolute commitment to the ethos and values of inclusive education for all Brent’s children and recognition of the positive role schools should play in the wider community.
2. A commitment to a close working relationship with the local authority in order to maintain an appropriate focus on borough-wide priorities, including local authority nomination of a member of the governing body and a commitment to sharing performance information.
3. The ability to deliver school improvement in an urban context.
4. That the establishment of the proposed education provision would be supported by demonstrable parental demand and with a genuine commitment to providing school places for local children.
5. Appropriate staffing arrangements to ensure high quality teaching and learning from qualified staff and good employment practices, including in relation to support and contracted staff.
6. A commitment to meeting the needs of Brent’s diverse community.
7. A commitment to ensuring the future employability of young people (in particular in secondary and 16 to 19) through links with business, industry and higher education.
8. A commitment to community access and use of facilities through agreed extended opening and lettings policy.
9. A commitment to good pupil nutrition and healthy eating.
10. A commitment to inclusive practice and fair access to the school for all pupils as governed by the Admission Code of Practice and the Authority’s Fair Access Protocols.
The partnership commitment clearly addresses concerns over issues such as the employment of unqualified teachers,  working conditions, poor quality school meals and selection. However, Conservative academy and free school advocates are likely to see this as an attempt to get academy and free school funding for 'local authority schools in disguise' - lacking the 'freedoms' that such schools are supposed to enjoy.

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