Within two hours of our last post we were finally provided with the dates for the statutory consultation into the proposed Becket Keys Church of England School funding agreement with the Department for Education (DfE). At 15:40 those on the Becket Keys mailing list were sent a statement that was also posted on the Becket Keys website on what form the consultation would take and the questions that it will ask. A link to the page is provided below:
Those with an interest in the consultation may be surprised to find out that it started today. It will close in six weeks time on April 20th 2012. This seems to contradict the statement that Becket Keys provided on their own website on 21st February:
“The consultation will run for six weeks (not including school holidays) to make sure that everyone has a chance to respond.”
It seems strange that a proposed Church of England school seems to have forgotten about the Easter holidays. More worryingly, there has been no advanced publicity of this date.
So how will Brentwood be consulted? We are invited to send responses to a mailbox that has been set up by Becket Keys.
We must answer the following questions:
“Q1. Should Becket Keys enter in [sic] a Funding Agreement with the Secretary of State?
Q2. Please give reasons.
Q3. Should Becket Keys adopt the proposed 2013 Admissions Policy without any further changes?
Q4. Please give reasons
Q5. I would like to suggest the following change(s) to the proposed 2013 Admissions Policy.”
What is not provided is full information upon which we must make this judgement. There is a link to the amended admissions policy which informs the final three questions but the most important ones, Q1 and Q2, are not supported by any information specific to the Becket Keys proposal.
On the 21st February, the Becket Keys website stated that the consultation:
“will have various supporting papers including the funding agreement itself, our policies on important issues such as Special Educational Needs Exclusions and Admissions for 2013 and beyond.”
What is actually provided is a link to a funding agreement template on the DfE website with associated annex templates. There is no specific information about how any of this relates to the proposal and nothing on “Special Educational Needs Exclusions”.
How is Brentwood supposed to answer questions 1 and 2 if we don’t know what is being proposed?
Other proposed free schools at this stage have made consultation documents available that detail their plans, funding strategy and governance model and have held public meetings to allow for comment and questions. This is not available to the community in Brentwood. Why not?
The New Schools Network (NSN) was set up to provide advice and guidance to those looking to set up free schools. They advise the following regarding consultations:
“While there are no rules regarding the precise structure or content of your consultation, NSN recommends that you submit a full and comprehensive plan for your consultation for the following reasons:
The consultation allows you to engage with more of the community than you will have had time or resources to do up to this point;
It is a great opportunity to market your school; and
It is a potential area for legal challenge by opponents.”
“You should consult in various ways – through written documentation, open meetings, and discussions with councils and local schools.”
Providing a mailbox does not seem to meet that brief. It also does not allow Brentwood residents to properly scrutinise were their tax is going. As previously posted, the “Academy Trust” that will be formed on acceptance of the funding agreement will have control over state funds. There is currently no detail as to who will form this. There is no detail on who will form the board of governors.
Meaningful information needs to be provided to enable a proper consultation. An opportunity to question those behind the proposal to gain full understanding is clearly essential. At least one public meeting should be offered as part of this process.
In addition, as we have previously posted, we are no clearer on how the answers to the questions that have been set will be presented to the DfE. Who is collecting the response? Will there be any independent scrutiny of the consultation? How can the accuracy of responses be assured? All views need to be accurately reflected for this to be a meaningful exercise.
Finally, we have consistently called for widespread publicity to maximise participation in a decision that will affect many members of the Brentwood community. We were pleased to see coverage of the requirement for the consultation in the local press in recent weeks. This should now be extended to cover details of the plans and how to take part. We also believe that, as suggested by the NSN, all potentially interested parties should be engaged. This must include existing schools and the parents of children that attend them.
So the “consultation” is underway. But we have no detailed information upon which to respond. We have no means of properly scrutinising what little we do have. We don’t know how the responses will be collected and represented and by whom. It is not being publicised to maximise participation.
This is too important to be conducted in this way. Becket Keys need to ensure that there is a meaningful consultation.
Brentwood deserves to be properly consulted.
Kathryn and Stephen Mayo