Thursday 3 October 2019

Brent needs to devise a strategy to address falling primary school rolls and improve their accountability to schools


We will see more scenes like this if Brent Council does not devise a strategy in partnership with headteacher and teacher unions to manage falling pupil rolls.

This is the presentation I made as a local governor and former Brent headteacher at last night's Scrutiny Committee on the Roe Green Strathcona proposed closure.

When schools were asked to have bulge classes or expand as a result of rising pupil numbers some declined for various reasons often to do with school vulnerabilities or the size of the site.

Roe Green infants, despite the difficulties did agree and are now paying for their selflessness and willingness to help the authority out.

They have been treated very poorly.

Governors from other primary schools are watching how this is dealt with very carefully. Some have expanded with new buildings but have not filled the additional spaces, others may be on two sites as Strathcona is and have heard the Council’s argument that such schools are ‘too expensive.’

The vast majority of primary schools in Brent have not academized, choosing to remain under local authority oversight, believing as we do in democratic accountability. 

But accountability goes two ways and the meetings I have attended about Strathcona have undermined my trust in the democratic process.

·     The inaccuracies in the officer’s report were not addressed.

·     The arguments of parents, pupils and staff (including the headteacher) were ignored..

·     The school’s proposal for additional provision on the site was misrepresented and  not responded to.

Instead the Lead member just read aloud extracts from the officer’s report.

People were left with the impression  that the closure was a result of cuts and the council need the money elsewhere , but school funding is ring-fenced so any savings would go into the general schools budget rather than towards other services. It would mean a tiny percentage increase in other school’s budgets and I for one would not want that to be at the expense of the Strathcona community.

If we still had a committee system, with a separate education committee, I feel that this and other proposals would have been properly debated and scrutinised. Some councillors in Sheffield are suggesting a return to that system to ensure better accountability -perhaps Brent should too.

The authority’s initial response to rising school rolls was often ad hoc. We now need a well thought out strategy to address falling rolls.

Treat Roe Green Strathcona’s staff, pupils and parents fairly and win back their trust and respect as well as that of others in the borough.

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