Thursday, 17 January 2019

Privatisation marches on with PRU academy/free school at Roundwood Centre in Willesden

The multi-million Roundwood Centre
Readers will know that Brent Council cut their youth service leaving only the Roundwood Centre in Willesden which does not operate at full capacity and thus impacts on the council's revenue budget.

The Centre only escaped closure because Brent Council would have faced potentially having to pay back up to £5m representing the Lottery Grant that was awarded via the government's Myplace programme to fund the building. The fact that it resembles a group of white elephants is purely coincidental!

The proposal is to hand over the site to an academies trust with youth provision being delivered by an an external provider.  This could be the Brent Youth Foundation, a voluntary organisation  that was originally set up to help existing voluntary youth organisations apply for funding. It is funded itself via the Harrow School foundation arm, the John Lyon's Trust. Running youth services directly  would be a departure from the original remit. The Budget Scrutiny Panel suggested an examination of the long-term viability of funding from John Lyon's and the City Bridge Trust, presumably before the council makes a commitment.

In addition the council proposes that a PRU (Pupil Referral Unit) be set up in the Centre. This would provide for pupils temporarily excluded from school. It would be classified as a new school and as such would have to be a free school or part of a multi-academy trust. It is proposed that it be run by Brent Special Academies Trust (currently consisting of Manor and the Avenue special schools).

Given Labour's policy of not creating any new free schools and academies this is controversial within the local Labour Party. This is not only about the issue of lack of public democratic accountability of academies but also the very ad hoc way special needs provision is being developed in Brent and the backdoor privatisation of most of the borough's non-mainstream special needs provision. A practical issue is whether the BSAT has any relevant experience in running a PRU -  a different kettle of fish from managing special schools.

The Budget Scrutiny Task Force recognised this dilemma stating:
It is far from ideal in our opinion, that this new school would be a free school, but unfortunately the law ensures that new schools opening are always outside of local education authority control. Perhaps a change of central government policy [a Corbyn government?] in future may allow the school to one day become part of the Brent family.

The arrangement is also not perfect for Brent because the asset would transfer to Brent Academies Trust meaning any additional income they derive from hiring out other rooms on site would not be retained by the council, However we will retain some oversite (sic) of the organisations as a senior officer will sit on the Trust's board.
An asset worth £5m handed over in the form of a very long-term lease.

So far no academisation proposals have beend made for the local authority Phoenix School on St Raphaels which specialises in provision for autistic children and of course staff at The Village School are fighting academisation. If academisation went ahead there another multi-million Brent asset would be handed over to a Multi-Academt Trust.

I would argue that democratic accountability is even more important in special needs provisoon because of the particular needs and potential vulnerability of special needs pupils.


Anonymous said...

An asset worth 5M to who?

It's not much good if it's empty. It's in the wrong place for a youth centre in the first place...

Anonymous said...

Wrong place? How?