Friday 15 November 2013

Controversial school expansion plans bring accusations of skewed consultation

Princess Frederica Primary School, Kensal Rise
I have been reporting here for some time some of the controversies around school expansion: loss of play space, loss of additional rooms such as libraries and ICT suites for classroom conversion, and concerns that primary schools can become too big and lose the intimacy and family centredness valued by many parents.

Present government policy restricts local authorities' ability to build new schools where they are most needed so they instead expand existing schools to cope with increased demand.  The government argues that Free Schools can provide additional places but this is dependent on a provider setting up in an area of shortage and many actually set up where there are already enough places. In addition Free School are not democratically accountable through the local authority system and do not have to employ qualified staff.  They are also much more expensive to set up than a local authority school and thus deprive LAs of finance.

Barry Gardiner MP and Cllr Michael Pavey have both supported the campaign for local authorities to be given powers to plan and build new schools. Meanwhile the problem remains,

The proposed expansion of Princess Frederica Primary School has been particular controversial with parents raising concerns in a letter to the governing body as long ago as July.

Now a local parent and residents has written to MPs and councillors about his concerns over the way the consultation has been carried out and made a formal complaint to Brent Council:

In the letter he says:
I must to bring to your attention a complaint that has been raised about the running of the consultation on the expansion of Princess Frederica Primary School. A copy of the complaint is attached along with a letter to Cllr Butt.

I know you take an interest in the our local area and so perhaps you are already aware of the controversial expansion plan which seems to be pushing ahead against the wishes of parents and residents.

It’s no secret that Brent Council and those running the consultation have a political preference for school expansions over new Free Schools. What’s deeply worrying is that implementation of this policy is resulting in an indifference to the majority of parents concerns. This can be the only explanation.  

What is less easily explained is the advice given by Brent to the school management and governors which has resulted in secret governor’s meetings, dishonesty and an active discouragement of all opposition to the expansion plans.

Recent events and decisions have poisoned a previously healthy school community, so any light that you can shed on this ugly matter will be appreciated by the community as a whole. Let us hope that good sense can prevail.
In his complaint Karl Abeyasekera says:

The consultation on the expansion of the school is biased and not inclusive. Concerns about this have been raised repeatedly over several months yet the failings of the consultation have still not been rectified. Instead they have been continually explainedaway in a fog of poor communication, which at times appears to be deliberate.

The department and individuals who are dealing with the consultation must act impartially and, in the case of the department for Children and Families, this is certainly not the case. It is not acceptable that this department, which has an interest and influence in increasing school places, is also dealing with complaints about improprieties relating to a specific expansion proposal. Their inability to deal with matters effectively demonstrates how inappropriate their dual role is. To date, these include: delays is reading emails; inertia when taking actions at the request of those opposed to expansion and untimely responses despite key deadlines.
We understand that the department for Schools and Families will present views from the consultation to a council executive but given the history of missing emails we have no confidence that this will be done impartially.

We now find ourselves with a planning application to expand the school pending, but any application will be based on incorrect background information because the educational consultation has been skewed by undue influence from parties in favour of expansion. The Applicant will be Brent. The authority dealing with the application will be Brent. The Brent department referring the case to the decision makers has expressed their prejudice in favour of expansion and has failed in dealing with complaints. The advice to the school on their handling of the Educational Consultation came from Brent. This is a closed loop with no external scrutiny and an entirely inappropriate way to deal with such an important matter.
The wellbeing of children and the affect on their learning are at stake.

The precise relationship between Brent Council and the school’s management/governors during the consultation is unclear to outsiders. What is clear is that the school takes advice from the council on matters of process and protocol so their failings in that respect are also the responsibility of the council. The council must actively enforce best practice and must be seen to support transparency over secrecy but, regrettably, this has not been the case. The resulting mishandling of the consultation by the school is documented in attachments to this letter but three further events that must be investigated are as follows.

1.       The school management misrepresented the views of the school’s neighbours to the board of governors, falsely reporting their support for school expansion.
2.       Parents and neighbours opposed to school expansion have, at their own cost, produced posters and flyers that have been posted near the school but not on school grounds. These continue to be systematically removed by the school. This shows a complete disregard for efforts to encourage engagement with the consultation process with only days to go before the deadline closes.

3.       A reason given by the school management for expansion was improved career progression for staff. As shown in Attachment 5, it is the staff who are in favour of expansion so their influence in the decision to expand is both questionable and disproportionate.


·          This Educational Consultation is not legitimate precursor to a planning application.
·          A decision in favour of school expansion has been taken without proper consideration of the views of all parties.
·          Information that was promised has not been received.
·          The decision to support expansion should be reversed.
·          The consultation to date is discredited and should be cancelled.
·          This complaint will be referred to the Local Government Ombudsman due to the direct actions of Brent Council and the indirect actions through the Management and Governors of Princess Frederica School.


What is needed is an investigation by an impartial third party into wrong doings. This should cover the Council, the School and the Board of Governors. The findings of an investigation should inform a new, transparent and fully inclusive consultation that should be scheduled for a future date. The terms of any credible consultation must be mutually agreed and in advance but as a minimum they should include: transparency, openness and honesty. The scope should include investigation of all expansion options, including: a 30 place bulge class as an alternative to 3-form-entry and coordination with other local schools with sites more suited to expansion.


  1. I'm afraid I Do not Have Anything Faith in Mr Gardiner or Mr Pavey.
    People Should Take the Memory of happened back in 1997 When Mr Gardiner came in Along with his Colleagues Telling us That Things Can only Get Better!
    as a much Needed wake up call.
    The fact and reality is Things did not get Better!
    and it is Very unlikely they ever will.
    Responsibility in the Hands of Cllrs and MP'S is comparable to responsibility in the hands of alcoholics...need I say anymore?

  2. There is a total lack of democracy in Brent applied to the planning of these schools.
    There is a deliberate attempt to stifle any residents participation, or opposition, until the formal statutory planning stages.
    The same issues reported above have been shown in the planning of Wembley High Technology College to create a 2200 pupil super-school in an area where there are huge access issues. The plan is to add an 840 pupil secondary school to the existing site although there is already a primary school 200 metres away from the school (Byron Court) and this in the part of the borough with the least demand for extra school places..
    The Transport Survey carried out by the school has been totally discredited and the proposal which ultimately puts residents lives in danger, due to opening access to the school via narrow roads leading to 2 cul-de-sacs, has been proved to be totally unsuitable.
    To add insult to injury it has discovered that Brent has approved the sale and opening of a 1100 pupil French foreign school, on the site of the old town hall, whilst still proclaiming a lack of primary school places in the borough.