Monday, 22 July 2019

E-ACT moves to shrink Crest Academy

Architect's image of the Crest Academy building
The academy chain E-ACT has embarked on a consultation exercise to reduce the intake of Crest Academy (Planned Admission Number -PAN) from 330 a year to 200. If you take class size as 30 this reduces the number of forms from 11 to 7.

At first sight this seems in contradiction to Brent Council's claim in in its School Places Planning Strategy that MORE secondary school places are required as the primary school bulge, which meant expansions and bulge classes in that sector, move into primary schools LINK:
Demand for places in Year 7 increased in 2017 and this is expected to continue as the significant growth in pupil numbers in the Primary phase in Brent progresses into the secondary phase. The 2019-23 School Place Planning Strategy identifies the need for an additional 13 forms of entry (see section 5) by 2023/24. This additional capacity could be provided through a combination of permanent school expansions, temporary bulge classes and new free schools.

The Council is working with secondary schools that have expressed interest in expanding. In addition two new free schools that were approved by DfE in November 2016 will help to meet increasing secondary demand. The North Brent Free School, which will provide 900 secondary places, is expected to open in September 2020 on the Chancel House site. The Avanti Free School, an all-through school, is expected to provide a combined capacity of 1320 places (60 per primary year group and 180 per secondary year group). The school will be unable to open until a permanent site is identified by the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA). The Avanti Free School will have a Hindu ethos and is expected to attract students from a wide geographic area. As it is difficult to find sites, the Avanti Free School may not be located in Brent.
The North Brent Free School will be in the same planning area as Crest Academy although it may attract pupils from beyond that area. In a letter to parents Christina Fernandes. headteacher of Crest, states:
Our projections show that there will be sufficient places available for local children if the PAN for this school is reduced. Should the demand for additional places increase in the future, the Trust will consider raising the PAN again.
These are Brent Council's figures for the Crest's Planning Area that show sufficient capacity WITHOUT the North Brent Free School.

SCHOOLS: Capital City Academy, Convent of Jesus and Mary Language College, Newman Catholic College, Queens Park Community School, The Crest Academy

It could be argued that the North Brent Free School is needed for the Wembley growth area rather than Neasden  but its site depended on the availability of land and is decided by the ESFA rather than Brent Council. Pupils would travel south on the Jubilee line from Wembley Park to Neasden or via the 297 bus route. It will be counter to the present south to north flow of pupils going to Ark Elvin, Wembley Ark, Michaela and Preston Manor.

Clearly this is one consideration for Crest but there are others. Crest has had difficulty in filling up all its places despite the new £40m building, a major reason for the original academisation bid by the heads of the separate John Kelly Boys and Girls Schools.  When schools do not fill all their places it means that they become the school allocated to Year 6 pupils who do not get any of their choices of secondary school and for pupils who arrive in the country too late to apply for a place. This skews the intake and introduces a 'churn' when pupils leave as places become available at their school of choice.  This in turn presents a challenge for teachers and affects performance data.

A PAN of 200 could stabilise the school with E-ACT Braintcroft Primary School, just across the road from Crest, providing up to 90 of the 200 pupils.

Crest under its previous leadership in June 2015 scrapped the separate teaching of girls and boys inherited from the John Kelly Schools despite opposition from some parents.

Parents protest outside Crest  in favour of single sex education- then under construction
Mohsen Ojja, Principal at the time, explained:
Our outcomes are significantly low. We have to do something about it. The two factors driving this change - a duty to ensure every single pupils can access the best education possible by managing the performance of teachers appropriately, and recruiting better teachers and leaders - and our duty to prepare pupils for life in modern Britain.
The move was supported by Ofsted and Crest was inspected in 2016  was categorised as 'Good'.  However there remains a group of parents who favour single sex education and resent the fact that it is not available  at secondary level except in Roman Catholic schools or the private sector. Crest may have lost some pupils to the private sector.

Ironically a monitoring visit by HMI and Ofsted in 2018 was very positive but noted regarding the building:
The extensive school site poses some challenges for school leaders. A school ‘line up’ happens three times a day and is intended to ensure that staff know where pupils are and are able to prepare them better for the next learning session. However, leaders accept that they need to give further thought to the rationale for this activity, the allocated time and the consistency of approach by pupils and staff.
The building, designed for 11 forms on entry will now house a much smaller number of pupils and raises questions about 'value for money' for the £40m spent on it.

Money is of course another factor, maintaining staffing and facilities for a larger number of pupils than actually attend produces a budget gap.  Cristalina Fernandes tells parents:
A large portion of funding received by schools is directly related to the number of pupils attending the school. If there are too many vacancies in our school this means that we will not receive the maximum venue possible. Therefore we are proposing to reduce the number of available places to enable the school to operate more efficiently and cost effectively.
Depending on how resources are deployed at present this may mean both a reduction in the number of staff and an increase in class sizes in the future.

More widely of course the whole matter raises the issue of the secondary sector academisation that has taken place in Brent, depriving the local authority of any real say in planning school places and creating a competitive 'market' between schools.

The consultation began on Monday July 8th and ends at 3pm on Friday 8th November.   Responses should be sent to The Headteacher, Cristalina Fernandes, The Crest Academy, Crest Road, London NW2 7SN.

No comments: