Wednesday 17 February 2016

Barry Gardiner and Brent Council at loggerheads over mega primary

The Kilburn Times LINK reports today that Barry Gardiner, Labour MP for Brent North,  accompanied by Martin Dickens, chair of Parents Against Byron Court School Expansion and Suzanne D'Sousa, chair of Sudbury Court Residents Association, met with DfE officials to protest at plans to expand Byron Court Primary School to 5 forms of entry.

Brent Council proposals would increase the school to a total of 1,050 4-11 year olds plus nursery. Gardiner accused the Council of putting their statutory responsibility to provide school places above the well-being of pupils.

Brent Council has been under intense pressure over  primary school places for several years now and has moved from providing ad hoc 'bulge classes' to permanent expansions. The situation is exacerbated by rules under the Coalition and the present government that forbid local authorities from building new schools where they are needed. Instead any new school must be a free school or an academy which is of course dependent on providers coming forward.  Unfortunately this leaves provision at the whim of such providers who often make proposals in areas which are not those of greatest need.

In the secondary sector in Brent some academies have come forward with proposals for a new Brent North secondary free school that they will jointly sponsor.  There haven't been any similar proposals for primary so an increasing number of schools have doubled in size, affecting place space and facilities such as halls and libraries, as well as impacting on the ethos and management of the schools.

One loophole that is rapidly closing is the creation of 'satellite' schools under the auspices of an existing school but in a different building, often some distance from the 'parent' school.  Leopold Primary is such a school with an annex in Brentfield Road.  The DfE is likely to deem these to be new local authority schools in the future and thus not allowed.

I share the view that schools of this size are not suitable for the education of young children.  Sometimes plans are made for expansion with headteachers only for their long-term implementation and consolidation to be left to their successors. The arguments over the education benefot of very large primary schools have beenpreviously on Wembley Matters LINK

Mega primary schools result in highly paid headteachers who often have an 'executive' role quite different from the traditional role of the headteachers of smaller schools. There are increasing difficulties in recruiting new headteachers in the current climate created by government policy and the task of finding suitable candidates for mega primary schools, when current headteachers move on, is daunting.

Government policy, inherited from the Gove era, really must change - it does not serve the interests of children, parents or local democratic accountability.

Brent Council told the Kilburn Times that the decision to approve the expansion would not be reviewed.

This comment on the Council planning site gives a flavour of the opposition to the expansion which it is claimed was opposed by 90% of consultees (unedited)  LINK

There are several words I could use to describe my objection to this application: DISGUST that a proposal which had such overwhelming objection at the public consultation stage was passed through to planning. DISBELIEVE/OUTRAGE that the local councillor and cabinet members response to such objections was that most of them could be resolved at planning - the site is too small meaning the proposed building will be obtrusive to the immediate neighbours and detriment to our children's health as they will no longer be able to enjoy the fast array for physical activities currently available at the school; isolated in an already congested residential area - with increasing congestion and pollutions levels being experienced on East Lane and Watford roads as the main roads serving the estate; the school places are not needed in this area of the borough, Wembley High's primary school (when finished) will already provide a surplus of places in the area meaning the new attendees will have to be travelling some distance coursing further traffic and parking issues in the immediate and wider area (because of the limited public transport available in such an isolated area at the northern most boundary of the borough); and that the proposals are completely out of character for the area - frankly unless you are proposing to relocate the entire school to a more suitable location these are not issues which can be resolved. DISAPPOINTMENT at the behaviour of the Head teacher - backtracking on her own statement of a few years ago that "three form entry was more than big enough for a primary school" and her attempts to garner support from the parents by holding propaganda assemblies about the proposed new facilities with the children, sending them home to tell their parents to support it and the attitude of the school management and councillors in pushing these proposals forward are to the detriment of the local community. A state school, local council and its democratically elected members should be there to serve its community not to impose its own agenda irrespective of the needs and wishes of that community - it is telling that the only comments of support for this application have given the school address or addresses outside of Brent for their authors. As parents, of course we want better facilities for our children, of course we want the existing canteen with its leaky asbestos roof (which should have been condemned decades ago) replaced, of course we want to see the 'temporary structure' (porter cabin classrooms) which have been in use since the 1970's & 80's replaced with permanent classrooms in keeping with the current school architecture. BUT not at the expense of an intimate, cohesive, caring educational establishment which you should expect of a primary school and I am sure you cannot replicate in a school the size of the one being proposed. I urge those with the power to make a decision in this matter to reject it for the good of the children already attending the school and for the wider local community. Why should this small corner of the borough bear the brunt of the councils lack of planning over the last decade for an ever increasing population, coursed both by the increasing birth rate and the unsustainable over development without infrastructure (some distance away from Byron Court) in Alperton and Wembley Park and at other locations across the borough (but not immediately local to Byron Court)?


Anonymous said...

Anyone know the size of the prep school Cameron is sending his son to? Or Gove's kids' school? Or Nicky Morgan's? Or Mo Butt's? Or the head teacher mentioned above? Or anyone reading this blog's own primary?

Anyone ever heard any of the people above saying 'yeah, my kids' school/my own school was pretty good but it would have been much better if it had been 4 times bigger'?

Has any 'free' school application ever been based on the fact that parents have been unable to find an existing local school which is sufficiently massive and impersonal? ('I had to take my 2 out of the local primary because I couldn't stand the fact that the head knew all the kids' names. Soooo intrusive!').

Anyone ever said, or heard any child say, 'the person at school who really awakened a love of learning for me was... the Chief Executive'?

Thought not. Still, some kids matter and some kids, matter differently.

Mike Hine

Anonymous said...

If this expansion is approved there will be 1050 pupils on site and Byron Court will be the size of a Secondary school. Who would want their young child to attend a Primary school of such size? (Interestingly, at meetings with parents and residents there was an assurance that there were no plans for a Nursery and yet it has suddenly reared it's head!) The Reception year group will have 150 pupils (as will each of the other year groups.) Many young children may not have been away from their home environment before and yet they will be expected to cope in a huge Primary school together with all the issues that such an environment presents. It would seem that the children's social, emotional and educational wellbeing are no longer the priority in any decision making regarding this proposed expansion.
Parents don't want this huge school, residents don't want this huge school and even staff are not convinced that a school of such size is the appropriate environment for Primary aged children.
The only beneficiaries of this expansion will be Brent Council (who can lay claim to having one of the UK's largest Primary schools) and Byron Court School Management. Would the latter or the powers that be at Brent Council want their young children educated in a school of such size? I doubt it.
Whatever has happened to the needs and wellbeing of children being the priority? It appears that "Every Child DOESN'T Matter."