Thursday, 9 May 2019

Scrutiny decides NOT to refer Alternative Provision Free School proposal back to Cabinet



Cllr Jumbo Chan presents the reasons for the call-in

There were only two dissenting votes on Brent Community and Wellbeing Scrutiny Committee this evening when the Committee decided not to refer the proposed Alternative Provision Free School back to Cabinet.  This means the Council will go ahead and seek sponsors for the school despite official opposition from the Labour Party to the creation of any more free schools or academies. There may be a little token consultation along the way but this will not be about the principle of free school provision.

It was always going to be a difficult case to argue because of the ramifications of government legislation that (absurdly) prevents local authorities setting up new schools when they are needed. New schools have to be either a free school or an academy - both outside local authority oversight.

There is a possibility of setting provision up as part of a local authority school - rather than a new school, rather as Leopold Primary opened another site in Harlesden. However all secondary schools in Brent are either academies or voluntary aided schools so the only local authority schools left are primary.  The Chair of the Committee, Cllr Ketan Sheth, raised doubts about whether a primary school could cater for older pupils, a point denounced as patronising by Jean Roberts of the NEU when she was eventually allowed to speak having had her hand up for a long time.

Strategic Director of Children and Young People, Gail Tolley, told Cllr Jumbo Chan that she had raised with secondary school heads the possibility of them taking on the alternative provision but they had not been interested. Those recognised by the DfE as able to set up a free school could still apply during the procurement process. Cllr Chan said that an informal discussion was not sufficient and requested evidence of a formal consultation.  Union representatives protested that they had not been consulted as educational professionals on the Council's proposal.

In answer to claims that the secondary schools would welcome such provision Jean Roberts said it was these very schools, academies and free schools in the borough, that were excluding the pupils who will end up in the alternative provision.  There was a discussion among educational professionals after the meeting about the danger that the provision may end up as a 'sin bin' with disproportionate numbers of black pupils as happened with Units for Disruptive Children in the 80s. 

Simone Aspis, (see separate post below) had argued that outcomes of Pupil Referral Units (PRUs) and Special Schools were poorer than for similar children integrated with support into mainstream.  There is a concern currently from Ofsted about the 'off-rolling' LINK of pupils by secondary schools. This is done so that the pupils are not counted in examination statistics thereby improving the school's league table position.

Will the existence of this provision mean that secondary schools will be tempted to off-roll or exclude even more children? (Recently a suggestion has been made that excluded pupils should be included in the excluding school's examination results to reduce the incentive to exclude.)

Will the unintended consequence of the Council decision be that a disproportionate number of black pupils will be sent to the provision - there is already a disproportion in those sent outside the borough to alternative provision? How does that sit with the principle of inclusion and Brent Council's current project to improve the educational attainment of Black Caribbean boys?

Cllr Mili Patel, argued that the Council has set out the condition that any provider would have to include a council representative and a secondary school representative on the trustees board.  She claimed it would be more accountable than academy boards who have no local authority representation. Furthermore Gail Tolley argued that because these were vulnerable pupils the authority did have powers to intervene as it had a safeguarding duty for all children in the borough regardless of the type of provision.

Asked what would happen if the authority was not satisfied with the performance of the provider Cllr Patel said that the contract could be terminated. One councillor rightly asked, 'what will happen to the children in the event of termination?'

One feature of the hearing was that three out of the six representations made at Committee were from the Young Brent Foundation, a registered charity LINK that claims to support 122 Brent young people's projects. They were led by their new CEO Chris Murray, who called on the committee to 'force through' the Cabinet's proposal.  The YBF was set up by Brent Council after they closed the Youth Service. They help voluntary organisation find funding as a replacement for council funded youth provision. It is largely funded itself through the John Lyon's Trust, the charity arm of Harrow public school. LINK

When it was set up it was emphasised that the Foundation itself would not directly provide youth services but would help others to do so.

Their contributions focused on the benefits of the wrap around youth provision proposed for Roundwood now that the free school will pick up the bill for the maintenance of the site itself via a separate funding stream. They  paid little attention to the reason for the call-in, which was not to oppose youth provision, but to ensure the quality and accountability of the alternative provision.

CONSULTATION

I submitted a Freedom of Information request to Brent Council regarding consultation on the proposal for Roundwood Centre and am still awaiting a response:
The Cabinet is making a decision on the future use of the Roundwood Centre at its meeting on April 15th including alternative provision via a free school sponsor and youth work.

The Cabinet paper lists the followign consultations:

"9.1 The council has consulted with young people at Roundwood Youth Centre (including young people with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities), council staff and other stakeholders on the proposed Alternative Provision schools and Youth Offer. See time-line below:
 Youth Offer consultation with Brent Youth Parliament, January 2018;
 Youth Offer consultation with Youth Offending Service, February 2018;
 Design of the Youth Offer site (Hackathon), March 2018;
 Consultation with Roundwood Youth Centre (RYC) staff about budget
proposals and changes to delivery at RYC, October 2018;
 Feedback on Youth Offer final design, October 2018;
 Children’s Commissioner takeover day (re Youth Offer), November 2018.
 Consultation with RYC service users, January 2019;
 Consultation with RYC service providers, January 2019;

Young people’s views have been sought from the Roundwood Youth Centre as well as from Brent Youth Parliament, Care in Action / Care Leavers in Action and other young people’s focus groups (as above). Young people were also previously consulted as part of the Council’s Outcome Based Reviews related to Gangs and Children on the Edge of Care, which have fed into proposals."

However there is no report on the outcomes of these consultations. Please supply all available reports/minutes on the above consultations before the Cabinet meeting.

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