Wednesday 11 November 2015

Brent Labour Council backs new free schools for rising secondary population

The report on school places planning  to be discussed at Monday's Cabinet Meeting goes further than hitherto in backing the provision of new free schools to provide for the rising secondary school population, which is now working its way through from the primary sector. LINK

This is partly because, due to academisation, there are now no  local authority secondary schools left in the borough.  The report acknowledges the risks attached, although more risks would have been taken into account if they had looked at experience outside of Brent. LINK

The recommendation is in conflict with the direction of national Labour policy under the Corbyn leadership which is critical of free schools as the first step in a move towards schools for private profit.

The problems with the Council's approach are clear in these two consecutive paragraphs in the report:
There is a however a risk to the Council in making assumptions on the delivery of school places through proposed free school developments. The Gladstone Secondary Free School has been approved to open in Brent, but the proposal has been delayed, until at least 2017, due to the inability of EFA to find a suitable site. If this proposal is not delivered, or there are delays in provision, the Council will have a statutory duty to provide and fund the required school places. This risk is reduced if the Council is pro-active in seeking proposers for new schools and working with the EFA to identify potential sites for new schools. The EFA is able to purchase commercial sites for Free Schools.

Given the level of the need for places in the secondary phase and the high costs of expansion; new Free Schools are therefore recommended as the preferred option to meet the projected increase in demand for secondary places.
The section on primary expansion also looks to free schools alongside expansions of local authority schools.  Most primaries remain local authority schools although Sudbury Primary voluntarily academised some time ago and there will be a battle over Oakington Manor and Furness academisation plans. 

Floreat Primary Free School is due to open on a temporary site in 2017 while Ark Somerville Primary has no site as yet. Brent Council will be looking for a free school sponsor for a new school in Oriental City/Edgware Road. Michaela secondary Free School does not seem to have followed through its primary school plans.

However it is the expansion of local authority primary schools into much larger units that remains the core of Brent Council policy and the report recommends what amounts to a loosening of Principle 1 for school expansion. Hitherto only Ofsted rated 'Good' or 'Outstanding' primary schools were recommended for expansion.  As can be seen this has been changed to enable more schools to expand. Such a policy has a risk attached because expansion has a number of risks, including the disturbance to the learning environment caused by building works, changes in school ethos as a result of much larger number of pupils, and an increase in pupil mobility disrupting educational progress. School leadership has to be strong to cope in such circumstances.

Despite recent parental opposition to very large primary schools, the policy retains 5 form entry schools as an aim. This is 1,050 4-11 year olds in a school. The DfE has recently got wise to the fact that some local authority school expansions using an additional site are de facto new schools and this is recognised in revised Principle 3.

As someone who values small family-centred child-friendly primary schools and is opposed to free schools, so ripe for financial mismanagement, I find this all rather disheartening. What is disturbing is that the changes haven't really been debated. Parents and school staff have had little or no voice on policies that will have a profound impact on the quality of education in the borough.

What about the children?


Anonymous said...

If they don't feel competent to ensure running of schools, they can't be competent to run a council.

Anonymous said...

So, if you make a joke about voting for a bunch of anarcho-fantasist dreamers like Class War you get suspended from the Labour party. But if you actually actively adopt the very real education 'de-regulation' policies of a right-wing faction of the party who are supposed to be your historical ideological antithesis, you can carry on calling yourself Labour and continue to leverage the support that brand gives you in order to keep your own cosy little clique (and its supporting cast of ovine vote-fodder) in power forever.

Mike Hine

Alison Hopkins said...

I find it utterly astonishing that ANYONE can think that the profoundly dodgy and never likely to open Gladstone School can be counted as possible school places. The DfE have alread spent an absolute fortune on them, with nothing to show for it.

Martin Francis said...

The secondary schools (apart from Copland - now Ark Elvin) converted voluntarily to academy status. Preston Manor started the trend due to its competition with Wembley Ark academy and others followed. There was the lure of extra cash from the government, particularly after 6th form funding was cut. I would however argue that Brent Council did not fight hard enough to keep them in the local authority community of schools.

In a double whammy, cuts imposed on the Council meant that the borough's school support service was cut and offered less with declining efficiency so it was hard to argue for remaining with the local authority.

This led in the Copland case to the Council arguing that it did not have the resources to support the school after it was put in special measures, opening the way to academisation.

In addition the government will not allow local authorities to build new LA democratically accountable schools. Any new school must be an academy or free school.

Effectively local councillors, without a concerted nationwide campaign, have their hands tied. I am sure that on Monday the Cabinet will be told that they have no option but to go down this route.

Despite noises during the leadership camapign it is not clear that Labour will make this a major issue.

Anonymous said...

This is terrible news. Brent schools have been picked apart by academy vultures and the community is left with a bare boned LEA.

Brent has fallen square in the trap the government has set for them. Education at the mercy of quasi-corporations parading as charities running free schools where and when they choose is clearly not the best way forward. Local authorities are best placed to plan new schools.

Does anyone know why Gladstone now won't open until at least 2017? Their website is taking applications for 2016. I echo Alison's concerns about Gladstone's profound dodginess. Just a married couple of chancers trying to peddle their unsaleable curriculum and they're roped in their daughter-in-law, keeping it in the family. I note from the newly publicly available application to the DfE, they weren't originally after the Rugby pitch and open space, they were after the Rugby clubhouse, the nursery and the community cafe in Gladstone Park.

Anonymous said...

Re.Michaela School's primary bid, as far as I know it was rejected and they did not reapply.

Alison Hopkins said...

That's a total lie on their part. I met them in September 2013 when they were lobbying to get support. (!) They categorically wanted the William Gladstone Open Space and had done throughout. The didn't even know the clubhouse etc. existed till we mentioned it being there.

Anonymous said...

There's apparently loads of rentable space in Engineers Way. It would be fitting for Buttco to fully embrace the 'free' school movement by giving Gladstone space at a knockdown price, in the renamed Goveic Centre, Toby Young annexe. Gladstone could return the compliment by naming the school houses after local icons: Davani, Gilbert, Ramsay Mac, that kind of thing ........

Anonymous said...

More people will begin to home school their children in the case of gigantic primaries.

Anonymous said...

Check out their application, page 137. It lists in detail their proposed premises. They clearly list the clubhouse as their first choice for site. This application would have been made around the time you met with them but well in advance of the infamous meeting at the Crown.

Alison Hopkins said...

I'll go look. They'd not submitted the application when we met them. And as you know, everything after that always said the Open Space. Game players, aren't they!

Alison Hopkins said...

Very interesting. Especially the redacted bits about the two Executive members they met with. I'll lay odds it was PAvey and Butt. Who later, of course, decided he and he alone could prevent a planning application being approved. I think the brownfield site is Brent Cross Phase One by the look of it.

Anonymous said...

The following anonymous contribution concerning Gladstone was made to the James Powney blog in January. It still makes interesting reading:

'Paul Phillips, their principal designate, still works with the failing AET chain in curriculum leadership. In March 2014 AET were barred by the DfE from taking on more academies but, clearly, those in curriculum leadership are welcome to moonlight with a new free school on the side. Mr. Phillips was appointed by Gladstone School on 1/1/14 so he's now been employed in a role advertised at £95K plus and has yet to help educate a single child.

Curriculum is something of an interesting topic with Gladstone School, in it's early campaign and even through approval from the DfE, they were peddling their own home-brewed curriculum. Jim Gatten, one of the founders, along with this wife, Maria Evans Chair of Governors at Gladstone, had failed to sell a curriculum Jim wrote cleverly named Do It....Write! Gladstone School was to use this curriculum and, who knows, maybe sell it on the AET or hope for a foothold in the free school curriculum market. When it became exposed locally, Gladstone School immediately responded by saying that they had previously decided it was a conflict of interest and will not use the Do It....Write curriculum. They are now developing a "London-based curriculum" and with all the transparency of a dirty goldfish bowl, it is not clear if Jim and Maria will personally profit from it.

In the year ending 2013, Gladstone had spent a massive £77K and labelled £74K of it as "charitable expenses" in their annual accounts. This is before the hiring of the head and all site finding expenses would have been covered by the EFA.

All of this brings no good reason why Gladstone School should open in Brent or anywhere. Trust was broken early on when they tried to build on Metropolitan Open Lane, transparency is sorely lacking and there is no clear benefit to opening this school.'