Wednesday 25 February 2015

Insight into the business of Gladstone Free School: Are they doing it right?

Guest blog by Anonymous

It all started innocently enough. Jim Gatten and Maria Evans, a mum and dad from Barnet, decided to set up a new parent-led secondary school which they hoped the community would embrace. They applied to become a free school, a school independent of the local authority and accountable only to and funded directly by the Department for Education (DfE). They advertised for other parents and members of the community to join them in gathering enough signatures to show the DfE that it would be full for the first 2 years after opening, a box ticking exercise the DfE puts hopeful free school founders through. Off they went with their clipboards to various primary school gates gathering signatures. They got the required minimum of 250 signatures necessary for their free school application but there was never a groundswell of local support. Many parents who signed simply thought that a new school sounds like a good idea, after all, these are parents setting up a school and just need a simple no-obligation signature. No explanation was given as to the implications a free school has on the local communities and it was 2013, before the flurry of headlines of failing and undersubscribed free schools had hit the press.

Gladstone Free School was born in May 2013 on approval from the DfE and then things got messy. Gladstone immediately tried to secure the playing fields of Gladstone Park for their school building, arguing that they were simply returning a school to the site of the long closed William Gladstone School. Of course, what they failed to appreciate is that the site of William Gladstone School has since been built upon and is now a well-established housing estate. The land where they proposed to build is genuine community open space containing the top pitch for the Kilburn Cosmos (Brent’s only Rugby club) and allotments. Inconveniently for them, it is dedicated metropolitan open land which gives it a whole host of protections. Their naivety shined at the now infamous consultation meeting at The Crown when they tried to sell the project to the community. Neighbours, Rugby players, concerned educationalists and more turned up and packed the meeting room alongside a handful of confused prospective Gladstone Free School families. It was clear that building on the open space was a non-starter with the community but Gladstone Free School soldiered on for some time, in search of a possible community benefit of building a non-community school on a park. Eventually, the clock ran out for opening in 2014 and they had to postpone their opening by a year in order to look for a more suitable site.

The Gladstone School Trust (the “charity” behind Gladstone Free School) had to take into account the feelings of the community during their public consultation, hundreds had responded to the consultation in hopes that the free school would not build on the open space. Whilst the community waited and asked questions of the free school, Gladstone Free School responded by deleting their Twitter accounts and removing a number of pages from their website making reference to their proposal to build on the park. The community was clearly not welcome to question or engage with the school and all who asked questions were labelled “detractors”. After much pressure, the trust finally published version 3 of the consultation document, versions 1 and 2 have yet to be seen by the public. The consultation document showed an overwhelmingly negative response from the community and very little support, yet the Gladstone School Trust decided that those opposed to the site could still be supportive of the school in principle, therefore, they should build the school but not in the park.

Enter Paul Phillips, Principal Designate of Gladstone Free School who responded to the school’s pompous advertisement for a principal describing the school as “fostering the mind-set and confidence more privileged children possess from birth”. The job advertised a £95K+ salary which Paul has enjoyed since 1/1/2014 and has yet to educate a single child, much less one who doesn’t possess the mind-set and confidence of a more privileged child. So where did Mr. Phillips come from and what did Gladstone Free School mean by an “entrepreneurial board of governors” in the job advert? 

Shockingly, Paul Phillips is credited with co-writing the first draft of the school’s behaviour policy on 29/11/2013, over a month before starting the job. According to his LinkedIn, Paul Phillips also works for AET in curriculum development and has done so throughout the entirety of his employment at Gladstone Free School. AET has been barred by the DfE from taking on more free schools and academies as their record is so poor.

There is something unusual about the founders’ determination to open a new school. It doesn’t make sense. A couple from Barnet who live in walking distance of both Whitefield School and Hampstead School, both rated “good” by Ofsted and both recently inspected under the newer, and tougher, Ofsted criteria. Whitefield School has an abundance of unfilled places and they live well within the catchment of Hampstead School.

So, why would these Barnet parents want to set up a school in Brent, miles from their family home, and put in such a tremendous effort fighting the community all the while? The answer may lie in the self-described “entrepreneurial board of governors”. In 2013 Gladstone School spent £73K on “charitable expenses”. What could these expenses be as they weren’t yet paying any employees. The application to the DfE included using the Do It Write! curriculum written by Jim Gatten, founding father of Gladstone Free School. This was only abandoned and deemed a conflict of interest by The Gladstone School Trust when it was exposed in Wembley Matters  LINK 

The Behaviour Policy of Gladstone School may hold another clue.  LINK  Writing school policies is a core function of every school governing body. Gladstone has outsourced their most recent edit to HeadLine Communications, a company which lists Maria Evans as the director. So how much did Gladstone Free School pay their own chair of governors for the small edits to the behaviour policy?

In recent weeks, Gladstone School has announced a site within 500 metres of Neasden Underground station which is a known pollution hotspot. They won’t tell anyone the exact site, blaming the DfE for the need to keep things quiet. LINK  

In spite of their 250 signatures needed to apply to start a free school, Gladstone has received less than 120 applications for September 2015 and they won’t share the number with the community. As every child who applied was offered a place and there are still places available, we know they haven’t reached their target number. In a desperate attempt to get more parents to sign up, Paul Phillips has been emailing supporters asking them to become ambassadors for the school and encourage their friends to apply as they “are at risk of not having the minimum numbers necessary to open the school”. As Gladstone is handling its own admissions for the first year and an application to them has been advertised as an “extra choice”, they should be very concerned about the low volume of applications. Many families who apply to free schools simply don’t turn up in September as they receive offers from established schools through the normal application process.

I close with a quote from William Gladstone who is listed as one of the inspirations behind the school. The school has been so inspired by him that they have taken the liberty of creating a fictitious Facebook account using his name. I do hope the founders of Gladstone Free School take a long, hard look at themselves and then abandon their plans for this school:

"Nothing that is morally wrong can be politically right." 


Anonymous said...

I have sent a link to this guest blog to Brent MP's Sarah Teather and Barry Gardiner, asking them to bring it to the attention of Nicky Morgan (Secretary of State for Education), and that she should ensure that her Department investigates these allegations as a matter of urgency.

Philip Grant.

Another angry mum said...

Another name that is on the Behaviour Policy is Ray Watson. He's the chap who was at the meeting at The Crown, playing the role of DfE consultant. So the same man who was involved with writing Gladstone's policies is also the independent consultant and compiled the consultation document?
How many conflicts of interest does this group have?

Anonymous said...

At total rethink of the commissioning of new schools is required immediately after May elections assuming coalition are given the boot.

The market system clearly demonstrated failure as it is more complex physically commission a public services, such as a school than simply demonstrating parent demand.

A huge amount of planning is required across a multitude of stakeholders including land owners, transport, education, teachers, parents, learners local people etc

It is easy to show parent demand when parents want the best for Darling Son or Daughter, but it is another reaching agreement on best location and who should manage the school.

The experiment has not worked and needs immediate review.

Anonymous said...

Breaking News

Head of private Gower primary in Kingsbury has been found guilty of assaulting a 10 year old boy.

This is happening on Christine Gilberts watch and people have been warning the cuts have gone far enough.

How many more of these incidents will start to surface ?
This might start to

Anonymous said...

From the behaviour policy "Gladstone School is committed to creating an environment where exemplary behaviour is at the heart of productive learning. Everyone is expected to maintain the highest standards of personal conduct, to accept responsibility for their behaviour and encourage others to do the same."

Shall we encourage them to behave responsibly?

Anonymous said...

Here, here!

Anonymous said...

Absurd! I know very little about free schools but can't Brent stop this? I have a child in year 6 and know of 2 people who applied for this school who have no intention of sending their child to Gladstone School. They applied just in case they got none of their other choices.
I'm emailing them this story as I'm certain they have no idea it's anything other than a free extra choice.

Willesden mum said...

I've just emailed to ask my child's name be removed from their list.
I thought something wasn't quite right when I was asked to get as many friends to sign up even if they will attend another school.
An email from Jim saying there are many detractors was odd but makes sense now.

I'm very uneasy about them now

Anonymous said...

This group are both arrogant and untrustworthy. They called all the other local schools "exam factories". As someone with first hand knowledge of our great local schools, I take that as an ignorant insult.

Anonymous said...

There are red flags all over this group and it started virtually from the beginning.

What any parent considering this school has to ask themselves, why have eight members of the Trust resigned in the last two years. This sets off major alarm bells and the fact that local business’ such as the Moran’s have quit their support speaks volumes, Tommy Moran resigned after only 11 months.
I also find it very misleading that Gladstone still list Professor Neelands as a governor on their website, he resigned from the Trust in April 2014.

Eight Director’s resignations within two years of a proposed school that has not even been fully approved is most alarming. The DfE should surely be questioning this?

Anonymous said...

I would be very worried if I had put this school on the list.

It is March in a few hours. If they don't have a building by now either they will open in a building not suitable as a school or they will not open at all.

It is just high risk particularly if you put this school as your first choice.

Given placements will be due out very soon it would be better to remove completely if this school is your first choice. It is possible you will miss out on your second choice if you do nothing.

Anonymous said...

One for Trading Standards to investigate misleading parents with names of education professionals when they have obviously resigned and are no longer associated the marketing.

Anonymous said...

When Michaela Community School offered places some were made to children whose parents had not even listed it as a choice so even those parents with the sense to only choose existing/established schools should be worried. The DfE will stop at nothing to try and fill unwanted and unneeded free schools.

Guest blog's author said...

The DfE have addressed this problem by allowing site-less free schools to handle their own admissions for the first year.
Students apply to their local authority as usual but then may seperately apply for a new free school. On offer day, students will receive an offer letter from their local authority and an offer letter from any site-less free schools to which they applied.

Students can then accept both offers as the free school offer is contingent on securing a site. Established schools don't know which, if any, of their applicants have applied for site-less free schools so it is a mess for real school as X number might not turn up on the first day and the places won't be put back into the pan-London system until quite late.

I do hope Gladstone and other free schools make it very clear to parents/carers that they must also apply to established schools.

Anonymous said...

Do not bet on it.

Gladstone Free School and all other Free School have to show " Market Demand"

To get "Market Demand" they are more than likely not to advise parents there is a high chance the school will not open.

Any ideas about the open of the other 2 Free Schools in Brent ?

Anonymous said...

The Gateway Academy seems dead in the water and Gladstone has announced today it will defer yet again and apply to open in 2016.

With Head Teachers and staff being paid to not work at schools I would estimate a good £400,00 has been spent on the non-openings. What could that have been spent on at our existing schools............ the list is endless.

When will the government put an end to this hideous, non-sensical and wasteful experiment.