Tuesday 19 February 2013

Should a BANG Free School be supported?

The list of proposed free schools elicited by the British Humanist Association includes a real mixed bag for Brent. They are:
Ysgol Gymraeg Llundain, London Welsh School
BANG Edutainment Ltd
London Ballet School
Sakutu Montessori Organisation School
The London Welsh School already has premises in Stonebridge and the application merely means a change of status.  The BANG Edutainment application is also in the south of Brent and is an interesting proposition which may meet the criteria set by Brent Council for partnership.  However the application has only 76 signatories on its on-line petition. LINK
I am opposed to Free Schools (as designated by the Coalition) on the grounds that they undermine local authority provision, take a disproportionate share of public funding which would otherwise go to ordinnary schools, are not democratically accountable and open the way for privatisation of schools.
I query whether,  given those overarching reservations, free schools can be used for progressive aims. However  it is only fair to let the proposers speak for themselves. I would be interested in what readers think. This is what their petition asks for:
We the undersigned declare support for BANG Edutainment’s proposal for a Free Secondary School for young people in Brent and surrounding boroughs.

The school will offer places to young people with poor choices of schools because of their area of residence.
The school will target those young people whose needs are not fully met my existing mainstream provision and who at risk of failing to achieve academic success and not reaching their full potential.

The school will offer a holistic provision of personal, social, work and life education alongside the established curriculum.
In a way those goals refer back to the free schools of the 1970s and the supplementary school movement both of which I worked with. They succeeded with many children that local authority schools had given up on. One question for me is whether our current schools are still failing to that extent with London schools performing above the national average in terms of examination and test results.. To answer that question we would need to look at exclusion rates, staying on rates and a breakdown of examination entries and results by ethnicity and social class. The statistics quoted by BANG indicate that a problem continues.

The preamble to the petition sets out BANG Edutainment's rationale:
BANG Edutainment is proposing a Free School that will target young people from the South of Brent and the boroughs surrounding. The target areas are characterised by housing estates with some of the most deprived neighbourhoods in the UK. (e.g. Harlesden, Stonebridge and Church End fall within the top 10% of the UK's most deprived wards. Residents in these communities suffer from poverty, deprivation, social and economic exclusion with high rates of unemployment.

Many people are from Black and Minority Ethnic groups with many refugee and asylum seeker families. Children from these communities experience a challenging home life, limited parental support and a lack of effective role model. In 2007 the Learning and Skills Council identified over 8.6% of young people in Brent as Not in Education, Employment or Training (NEET); amongst White and Black Caribbean it was even higher at 18.2% and amongst Black or Black British 17.7% against 2.1% for Indians. It is estimated 1 in 16 young people complete year 11 without qualifications, 17% of 16 - 25 year olds have literacy problems, 22% have numeracy problems and the number of 15 year olds identified as at risk in Brent alone is more than 15,000.

For the past 10 years BANG has worked very successfully with young people from these areas; young people considered hard to reach and socially excluded. And we’ve had a 75%+ success rate in terms of qualifications and progression to Further Education with limited resources! Our model of working with these young people includes: engaging them at their point of interest, working with them in small groups, building their motivation and aspiration, one to one support to overcome intensive issues, coaching and mentoring, peer education, building skills through practical and real life work and developing skills to prepare them for life and work. We are successful because we care about every young person we work with, we listen to them and we are flexible in how we meet their individual needs.

BANG proposes to adapt its existing model in delivery of a Free School and in partnership with local partners provide a real route to success for local young people.
The Centre for Staff Development building in Brentfield Road, which is soon to be vacated when staff transfer to the Civic Centre, seems the most obvious site for the proposed school if it goes ahead. I have long supported the idea of a secondary school in the area but always assumed that would be provided by the local authority.
I would be interested to hear your views. Please comment below.


Paul Ashby said...

As previously stated I'm no expert on this issue, however from what I've learnt I would be wary of any establishment setting up as a school without being properly accountable. My first knee jerk reaction was revulsion to their mangling of English, presumably in favour of making learning seem fun.
Despite this, I'm torn between feeling that education should be inclusive and all abilities and needs dealt with within the mainstream system and knowing from my own somewhat unconventional schooling that sometimes alternatives do work.

I'd like to know a lot more about this organisation, its achievements and its staffing before committing one way or the other.This is much less clearcut and potentially socially valuable than any other proposal for 'free school' that I am aware of. Although the question remains why are these achievements not being made in the mainstream.

DON'T dis US said...

Sakutu Montessori Organisation School already has premises on dollis hill lane near edgware rd