Concentrate on Brentwood Mr Elms

Richard Elms is a busy man. In fact a quick Google search indicates that Mr Elms is very busy indeed.

During February Mr Elms “from the RET” appeared in the Barnet and Whetstone Press and also Richard Elms “of the RET” was quoted in the Enfield Independent regarding the proposal for a “Greek Free School” in Barnet. He was also described as “Russell Education Trust spokesman” in The Argus who were covering “the Kings School”, a proposal for a church secondary in Hove.

Fortunately Mr Elms found time to appear in this week’s Brentwood Weekly News as “an adviser to” the Russell Education Trust to calm fears that Brentwood residents were still unaware of when the statutory consultation period for the proposed Becket Keys Church of England School would take place.

Mr Elms is reported as saying that he “hopes the consultation will be formalised by the end of February”. Of course this does not mean it will start then but “hopefully” we will at least know when and what form it will take at this point.

As previously stated, offers will be made to parents for 2012 entry on the 1st March. At some point offers from established schools will have to be given up in order to take up a place at Becket Keys. Given that that is now less than two weeks away, it is not unreasonable for parents to want to know when this will be.

Educating Brentwood contacted Essex CC and Becket Keys to request guidance on this matter. A mail was sent to both parties before 10:00 on 17th February requesting clarification on “whether the date was yet known and, if not, when it is likely to be?”

Educating Brentwood received the following response from Essex CC at 14:55 on the 17th February:

“Arrangements in this respect are still to be finalised – the intention is to make the process fair for parents, as well as to schools. Correspondence will be sent to relevant applicants explaining the situation from when offers of places are made on 1 March 2012”

The response from Becket Keys, received on 18th February at 10:23, reiterates this position:

“We are working with Essex County Council (ECC) on this and both Becket Keys and ECC understand the need for clarity and certainty. This is important for everyone: parents, pupils and other secondary schools. A joint approach is essential between schools and ECC. We will be advising parents in more detail when they receive an offer on 1st March. ECC will also be writing to parents soon after this explaining what they need to do and by when.”

We are grateful for the responses from the council and Becket Keys but we are unfortunately little better informed. Clearly a decison has not been made and the implication seems to be that only those applying to Becket Keys will be informed when offers are sent. Brentwood will not know until March 1st at the earliest.

The concern is that no consultation has yet taken place and yet decision time for parents is imminent.

Mr Elms provides nothing further in the article, only to state that “we are over-subscribed for September”. Of course, no-one who has applied for Becket Keys has done so under the usual conditions of application. They will hold two offers. It is very understandable that some may have applied in order to keep their options open.

It also seems a little odd, if there is overwhelming demand for places, that those behind the proposal are visiting a non-feeder school, St Mary’s, next week and declared on their facebook page on January 26th that “all applications from parents at Ingrave Johnstone look like they’ll be successful for 2012”. Strange for a school “serving the North of Brentwood”.

Until the consultation has taken place, and the future of the Sawyers Hall site has been decided, why should parents be made to choose?

Applications closed in November. Since then uncertainty over the site has grown and a primary school Head has been appointed as the “founding headteacher” for the proposed secondary school. Parents should be allowed to consider the whole picture before committing their children to any of Brentwood’s schools. The obvious mechanism is a public consulation.

The Russell Education Trust’s only existing free school is in Bristol. It opened in September 2011. From internet research, the consultation took place in July 2011. Less a consultation, more a fait accompli.

It is unfair of the parties involved in setting the timescale for committed offers to expect parents to decide until a public consultation has been held. No one should be required to respond until this is done. At the same time, as Essex CC rightly points out, other schools should not be adversely affected by this process.

It is vital that the consultation takes place as close to March 1st as possible.

Education Brentwood trust that Mr Elms will work hard to ensure the consultation meets this timescale.

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