Wednesday 2 October 2019

BREAKING: Brent Scrutiny Committee asks Cabinet to reconsider its decision on Strathcona closure

Cllrs Chan and Kennelly with Jenny Cooper and staff after the meeting
There was jubilation tonight when the Community and Wellbeing Scrutiny Committee, after hearing representations from Cllrs Jumbo Chan and Daniel Kennelly,  Jenny Cooper of the NEU, staff from the school and community supporters, decided to ask the Cabinet to reconsider its decision to close Roe Green Strathcona School and in particular to look at the proposals for additional provision at the school.

Jumbo Chan addresses school staff, union reps and supporters before the Scrutiny meeting

This does not mean that the school will definitely survive - Cabinet may decide additional provision is not required or will not be for the primary age group - but it is a significant victory for campaigners who were determined to put up a fight.

During the debate Gail Tolley, Strategic Director for Young People and Families, said that in the event of closure and because of the difficulties in recruiting teachers in the borough, she 'had no doubt we would be able to avoid compulsory redundancies.'

Opponents of the closure were infuriated when after detailed presentations by staff and supporters critiquing the evidence used by officers to justify closure rather than answering them the lead member just read from a typed manuscript prepared before the meeting.  He did not answer any of their points and this repeated behaviour in other meetings where he just read from the officer's report. The chair of the school's governing body's Finance Committee gave a detailed rebuttal of some of the financial information in the Cabinet report, others focused on pupil numbers, the failure of the local authority to publicise the school on its admissions website and the Headteacher revealed that the Council's own admissions department had stymied a parent's attempt to send her children to Strathcona because it would affect the school from which they were going to be transferred budget.

Fortunately Brent CEO Carolyn Downs intervened to summarise the questions and points raised and asked the Lead member, Strategic Director and Operational Director to respond and members of the Committee followed up with their own questions. There was a considerable amount of repetition on both sides but deficiencies in the process and evidence base  soon became clear.

Much will depend on the issue of Additional Provision. This is a proposal to site additional provision for primary special needs children on the Strathcona site alongside the mainstream provision. This would enable a degree of integration to take place to the benefit of both sets of pupils and enhance inclusion. Gail Tolley insisted that there was adequate provision for primary SEND children in the borough - in mainsteam schools, units attached to schools and the recently opened Avenue school which is due to expand. She said that the real need was for 16-25 year old provision and could be considered for the site. She made clear several times that such provision was completely separate from the survival of primary provision at the site.

Gail Tolley went on to reject other uses proposed by the school including a teacher training base for the borough, and a refugee resource centre. She suggested that there was not a need for a training centre as the Brent Schools Partnership already provided a service for the schools that bought into it. The borough Teachers Centre at what is now the  Leopold School annex was closed some years ago and BSP training takes place at a number of venues including the Crown Hotel in Cricklewood.

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