Thursday, 2 May 2019

Brent alternative free school provision call-in - what are the options?

Details of the Call-In of the Cabinet's decision to support a free school providing alternative education at the Roundwood Centre have now been published LINK

The Call-in was made by Cllrs Chan, Abdi, Mashari, Chappell and Hector.

The request was made by Cllr Jumbo Chan:
I am writing to request that the Cabinet’s decision to confirm approval of the establishment of an Alternative Provision Free School on the site of Roundwood Youth Centre, taken on Monday 15 April 2019, is called in.
Whilst I understand that it is not possible for Brent Council to open new community schools (Education Act 2011), we believe that there have not been compelling attempts to identify – or at least sufficient evidence of compelling attempts to identify – all the routes to establishing a new school on the site of the Roundwood Youth Centre (see Item 5.1 of Report from the Strategic Director of Children and Young People to the Cabinet on 15 April 2019). This may include, for example, evidence of formally approaching existing Local Authority schools to develop plans for them to run an Alternative Provision Local Authority unit at the site of Roundwood Youth Centre. 
The proposed alternative course of action suggested: 
Cllr Abdi:
We need to fully explore all the available alternatives. I am in favour of expanding existing local authority controlled schools instead of assisting the set up of another free school in Brent.
Cllr Chan:
That the Cabinet explore and evidence options for a Local Authority controlled school to provide Alternative Provision at the site of Roundwood Centre, and then proceed a with Local Authority controlled school to provide Alternative Provision at the site of Roundwood Centre.
That the Cabinet explore and evidence options for a Local Authority controlled school to provide Alternative Provision at the site of another site, for example, Roe Green Strathcona. 
Because the present and previous Labour administrations made little effort to oppose academisation, and indeed sometimes supported it, there are now no local authority secondary schools in Brent - they are all either academies or faith schools.  There are three types of academy in Brent: Capital City, (formerly Willesden High) which was the original Labour concept of converting failing local authority schools; stand-alone academies which converted from  local authority status mainly for financial rather than ideological reasons, and schools that are run by academy chains (Ark Wembley, Ark Elvin, Crest).  Special education provision is also largely academised via Multi-Academy Trusts except for the Phoenix Arch School.  There is also the Michaela Free School with its 'private school ethos' and controversial disciplinary regime and educational philosophy.

There was some wavering by primary schools a few years ago over academisation but the vast majority remain under local authority oversight.

If the aim is for the alternative provision to be run by a local authority school there appear to be two main choices: run by a Brent local authority primary school or by a local authority secondary school from a neighbouring borough.

Despite academisation some of the stand-alone secondary academies maintain a close relationship with the local authority and are seen by the council as part of the Brent 'family of schools'. They along with local authority primary schools are part of the Brent Schools Partnership (BSP).  The special schools have formed Multi-Academy Trusts but are  not part of an academy chain.  They might be cited as preferable providers if no local authority school solution is available, on the grounds that they have deep roots in the borough and links via the BSP to the council. However they all lack democratic accountability and oversight  and this is particularly worrying when some of the borough's most vulnerable pupils will attend the provision.

A further possibility is that the provider is a secondary faith school with a positive record of social inclusion.

An aspect of the proposal that will not be considered at the Call-In is the consequence of an expanded alternative provision in Brent. Ofsted has expressed concern over 'off-rolling' when pupils disappear from secondary school rolls just before examinations and there has been long-term concern over disproportionate permanent exclusions of Black Caribbean boys. Will secondary schools, keen to maintain or enhance their position in the league tables that are based on examination results, offload pupils that are unlikely to achieve good passes on to the alternative provision?  Will it contain disproportionate numbers of Black Caribbean boys or pupils with special educational needs or disabilities?

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