Becket Keys used to illustrate concerns over need for free schools in national press

The National Union of Teachers (NUT) is taking legal advice on whether to challenge the Secretary of State for Education on whether adequate assessment of the effects of “free schools” on existing schools has been undertaken prior to their opening. The NUT press release summarises as follows:

“Christine Blower, General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers, the largest teachers’ union, said: “The NUT is obtaining Counsel’s opinion on submitting an appeal to the Information Commissioner over the refusal of the Secretary of State for Education to disclose under the Freedom of Information Act copies of the statutory impact assessments that the Secretary of State is required to make when he considers whether or not to approve the opening of free schools. The Union is not convinced that the Secretary of State has applied the law correctly when considering the impact of these new free schools on existing local schools.”

The full statement with supporting case studies is available here:

This move has been covered prominently in today’s national press and Brentwood’s proposed Becket Keys Church of England School is used to illustrate concerns that free schools are being set up in areas with surplus secondary school places around the country.

The Independent reports as follows:

The Guardian covers the story here:

We have pointed out in two previous posts that the current “consultation” that Becket Keys are undertaking is meant to take effect on existing schools into account. This was further highlighted when the Brentwood Gazette published projected numbers for schools from September.

“Admission numbers for 2012 show that Becket Keys must consult existing schools”

“Becket Keys consultation needs to engage the whole of Brentwood”

If the NUT are correct it raises serious concerns that lip service is currently being paid to this assessment which may partly explain the Russell Education Trust’s (RET) comment in the Gazette that the consultation was “just a hoop to jump through”.

The case study document included on the NUT site to further illustrate their case makes very interesting reading and, despite there being 24 free schools already open with a further 70 due in September, both of the schools involving the RET are covered. The following is taken from the document entitled “Free Schools: A Cause For Concern. The Impact Of Free Schools On Neighbouring Schools”

“Despite the clear legal obligation to consider impact on existing schools, the NUT has serious concerns about the exercise of this duty in respect of the free schools approved and open to date.

The NUT has written to the Secretary of State seeking details of the evidence considered by him in assessing the impact of the open and approved schools on neighbouring institutions but has had this request turned down under FoI exemptions, a decision against which the Union is currently appealing.”

The RET backed schools are covered thus:

Bristol – There are four Bristol secondary schools within a few miles of the Bristol Free School, and these four schools currently have 300 surplus places due to demographic factors. All four schools are new builds since 2005, and three have been built under PFI contracts.  The empty spaces therefore need to be paid for by the local authority (hence tax-payers). The Bristol Free School itself was well below its target cohort of 150 for September 2011, and eventually took in just 70 students. Local head teachers argue that there is manifestly no need for extra places in North Bristol, and no change in future demographics that would indicate a future need. The free school can only succeed by attracting pupils away from the existing good secondary schools in North Bristol. “

There are two slight inaccuracies in the statement on Becket Keys. Mr Andy Scott-Evans is a primary school head not a deputy and we are yet to have confirmation that Becket Keys will have a sixth form. The statement is reproduced in full below:

“Essex – Becket Keys Church School, a CoE secondary free school with sixth form provision plans to open on the site of the former Sawyers Hall College in Brentwood in 2012.  The school, which recently appointed a primary school deputy head teacher with no secondary experience as its new head, plans to open with between 120-150 pupils. Sawyers Hall College was closed due to a local schools’ re-organisation and falling school roles. Mike O’Sullivan, the Head Teacher of neighbouring St Martin’s school was quoted in the local newspaper as stating that: “The closure of Sawyers Hall is happening as a result of a proper consultation which recognised a surplus of places within the town and the opening of Becket Keys will create a similar situation at a time when resources are scarce.” He added that: “All of the existing schools have significantly above average attainment”. Some schools are already experiencing a drop in the numbers of students enrolling for next year because of the free school. Shenfield High and Brentwood County High both report that their admissions for next year are down. Shenfield is likely to take 194 students in September – down from 201 last year – while Brentwood will enrol 215 students, excluding six with special needs – down from 239 last September. Carol Mason, outgoing head teacher at Brentwood County High, was not surprised by the news. She told the Brentwood Gazette: “We did not need that school. There are enough places already in existing schools – that is why Sawyers Hall College is closing.”

Stephen and Kathryn Mayo

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