Educating Brentwood contacted the proposed Becket Keys Church of England School mailbox on 14th March with our concerns about the consultation exercise that they were offering to the residents of Brentwood. This covered our reasons for believing it was flawed and our suggestions to make it more meaningful which was covered in the local press as per previous posts.
We sent a further mail on the 17th March offering to meet the proposers to explain our position on the consultation and with an offer to help them to arrange a public forum to allow for open scrutiny of their plans.
We were pleased to receive a response to these mails on 21st March from Richard Elms of the Russell Education Trust (RET) on behalf of Becket Keys. In the spirit of the transparency that we champion, we reproduce his reply in full:
“Subject: RE: Funding agreement and admissions consultation
Dear Educating Brentwood,
Thank you for your correspondence and offers of assistance with the consultation. Please accept our apologies for the delay in replying, it has indeed been a very busy time working with parents and the offers of places to their children.
We are of course concerned that anybody should feel that our consultation is not being conducted correctly and take your points very seriously. Having considered all the points that you have made we feel that they largely arise from a misunderstanding about what the nature and purpose of the consultation is. We have therefore endeavoured to answer each of your points in turn and referenced appropriate parts of our website and the Internet to amplify our responses.
“It allows no meaningful participation by Brentwood residents”
· Throughout the proposal and pre-opening phases of this project there has been a great deal of publicity about the school, for example: coverage in local newspapers, BBC Essex, Phoenix FM and we have run a stand in the High Street.
· We were featured twice in ‘Raring2Go’ which is a magazine given to every child in every school in Brentwood and Billericay.
· We have actively encouraged people who are interested to register with us to be kept informed.http://www.becketkeys.org/information.php
· In addition we have maintained an active information feed on Facebookhttp://www.facebook.com/becketkeysand Twitter http://www.becketkeys.org/twitter.php – we are confident therefore that Brentwood residents who wish to participate in the consultation are aware of it and are able to respond.
· In addition to this we have formally contacted all major stakeholders in Brentwood Education invited them to participate including all local Brentwood schools and the LA’s of Essex, Redbridge and Havering.
“No consultation documentation has been provided, unlike other proposals at a similar stage elsewhere in the country”
· The Academies Act 2010 (http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2010/32/section/10 )just requires that we ask the question of whether the arrangements should be entered into.
· It is our view that it helps those consulted to have access to relevant documentation provided by the DfE so that if they wish to understand the funding agreement in more detail they can examine it fully (http://www.education.gov.uk/schools/leadership/typesofschools/freeschools/a0074737/free-schools-model-funding-agreement).
· Both of these references are directly linked to from our consultation page (http://www.becketkeys.org/consultation.php) and in our communications.
· In addition to this there is a great deal of information about the proposed school available on our website.http://www.becketkeys.org/ and about Free Schools generally on the DfE websitehttp://www.education.gov.uk/schools/leadership/typesofschools/freeschools
“No information is provided about who will form the ‘Academy Trust’, who will control the public money allocated to it, or how the Board of Governors will be formed”
· The Academy Trust and the control of public money allocated to it are governed by the standard articles and the funding agreement. (http://www.education.gov.uk/schools/leadership/typesofschools/freeschools/a0074737/free-schools-model-funding-agreement).
· Details of the Board of Governors will be published later when arrangements are finalised however there are details of what is proposed on the FAQs page of our website (Q13).http://www.becketkeys.org/faqs.php
“Parents and others can comment only through an on-line mailbox that appears to be controlled by the Becket Keys proposers.”
· Responses can also be made by post to our office address – this is clearly detailed in the consultation information.http://www.becketkeys.org/consultation.php
· It is the Becket Keys proposers that are required to consult so, necessarily, we receive the replies.http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2010/32/section/10
“There is no information on who will monitor this mailbox, how the responses will be represented to the government or who will ensure parents’ views are accurately reflected to the Secretary of State”
· The responses are monitored and collated by the school’s proposers, as required by the Act, and we will report the results to the Secretary of State.
· We will also publish the results of the consultation including details of the numbers and types of responses.
· The process of opening the school including the consultation is supported and monitored by DfE officials.
· The report published on our website will be the exact version communicated to the DfE.
“We believe you can provide a meaningful consultation by:
Providing a consultation document which makes clear what the free school’s funding and governance plans really are.”
· The model funding agreement makes clear what the governance arrangements will be. http://media.education.gov.uk/assets/files/xls/f/free%20school%20indicative%20budget%20allocation%20calculator%20for%202012-13.xls
· The DfE website explains the funding formula and it’s equivalence to the formula used to fund other maintained schools in Essex. It is not something that we have any influence over nor can we consult on it.
“Disclose how and by whom responses are being collated and detail how these will be represented to the Department for Education.”
· See above
“Hold at least one public meeting to allow for questioning of the proposed funding agreement, with at least one week’s notice with time and venue published in the local press.”
· We do not expect to deviate from the model funding agreement – it is an instrument of national educational policy and in large part exists to ensure that the various requirements of Education law also apply to Free Schools and academies.
· We do not therefore see a purpose to arranging a public meeting to question its content.
“Ensure all schools in Brentwood are provided with details of how to engage in the consultation so they can pass this on to parents.”
· This was done when the consultation was announced.
“Please would you review your consultation in this light and provide a view as to how you intend to ensure meaningful participation by the maximum number of interested Brentwood residents?”
· We hope this provides a useful and comprehensive response and allays your concerns and we look forward to your response to the consultation itself. “Should Becket Keys enter in a Funding Agreement with the Secretary of State?”
We replied the following day on the 22nd March:
“Dear Mr Elms,
Thank you for taking the time to provide a full response to our queries regarding the nature of your consultation. We particularly welcome your commitment to collate and publish all responses on your website and trust that this will be a completely accurate reflection of the responses you receive.
We also believe that your reply will be instructive to those visiting our blog and will publish a copy on the site tomorrow morning assuming that you are comfortable with that. Please let us know before then should you not wish us to.
We disagree that we have misunderstood the nature and purpose of the consultation. Your position appears to be a very narrow one of providing a consultation that meets the absolute minimum required by the DfE rather than seeking to engage the wider community to ensure that everyone understands the full implications of your proposal before responding to you. We believe it would be better for you to follow our advice regarding a public meeting for instance, as it would be a demonstration of your intention to openly serve the people of Brentwood. The truth is that the publicity and meetings that you cite below were to capture support for the concepts behind your proposal as they pre-dated your interview with the DfE and subsequent approval from the Sec. of State. No public meetings have been held to allow scrutiny of the plans that you require state funding for.
We could labour the point but will conclude by saying that, based on your responses, it appears that the only current ways to ask questions are via your mailbox (which one is most appropriate by the way?) or via your facebook account. On that basis, we will send you later today a list of questions that we require answers to before we feel that we are in a position to respond to your consultation. To aid the consultation process, we will publish the answers you provide on our site.
The list of questions referred to are detailed on our page, “The Becket Keys Consultation: Answers Needed”. We sent these yesterday afternoon (22nd March) and will reproduce the response in full when we receive it.