Becket Keys admissions policy change angers supporters

Becket Keys Church of England School sent an e-mail to all those who responded to their funding agreement “consultation” on Thursday 22nd June regarding their admissions policy. The statement announced that the proposed free school would no longer use named feeder primary schools but would instead offer up to 50% of places to those meeting their faith criteria with the remainder allocated according to distance from the school. The new admissions policy for 2013 entry is available here:

Admissions policy for 2013

This was a particularly interesting development as, after a prolonged period of low activity, the Becket Keys facebook page sprang into life. A contributor, Richard Lynn, asked on 22nd June, “could you possibly make some commentary on this page around why the people in the feeder schools who vocally supported the inception of the school have had their interests prejudiced by an alternation in the proposed admissions policy for Sep 2013?” and his view was clearly shared by a significant number of others. Today (June 25th), Becket Keys have responded that they were “sympathetic” and that a meeting has been arranged for June 26th for parents at St Peter’s in South Weald.

My view, expressed in my consultation response, was that the 50% faith limit (which is a statutory requirement) should be carefully policed if the school went ahead and more detail on how this would be achieved would be welcome. I had not fully understood the reason behind the feeder school policy however and certainly not the strength of feeling that appears to be behind it.

The original document, published in April 2011, that sought support for the concept of the school makes clear that it arose from a group formed between St Thomas of Canterbury and St Peter’s Junior Schools but was intended not [to] be just for St Peter’s and St Thomas’ parents”. The final section states: “The criteria for admission are yet to be worked out but they are likely to be based upon a combination of: 1.Church Attendance, 2. Proximity to the school, 3. Local Feeder Primary Schools.”

2011_04 Becket Keys Church School Proposal Fact Sheet for Reverse of Questionnaire v 3

The feeder school idea was therefore present when support for the school was sought. It was further developed when the proposers met the Department for Education (DfE) to present their case. The resulting admissions policy was announced via e-mail on 15th September 2011 and was the one on the Becket Keys website until this week.

This policy upset those Shenfield St Mary’s parents who had been amongst those who had actively supported the bid which led to a section of their school website being dedicated to changing the policy. Ultimately this prompted an orchestrated response to the admissions consultation which, rather cheekily, Becket Keys used by counting every signatory to the letter as a separate responder to the overall funding agreement consultation.

So why change now? As reported by us and the Brentwood Gazette, the admissions policy was referred to the Schools Adjudicator earlier two months ago. “Gazette reports on Becket Keys suspected non-compliance with admissions code” The complexity of the feeder school policy was highlighted in particular. Becket Keys refer to this issue in their mail but also recognise that, as they intend to call on Essex CC to co-ordinate admissions, this caused difficulties. There is also a reference to Shenfield St Mary’s, so it maybe that their concerns have also had a bearing.

Those who seem most concerned by the new policy appear to be parents of children at St Peter’s. It may also surprise some that significant numbers of St Thomas’ parents do not live in the North Brentwood area that Becket Keys purports to want to serve. It is these people who appear to feel that the new policy has moved the goalposts to their detriment. If this was an important factor in securing their support then they have every right to be aggrieved.

However, this was not the approach that was presented to the DfE. As we reported recently in “Becket Keys: Serving the local community?” , Becket Keys claimed that it will be a local school, serving its own community with all of its students able to walk or cycle to school. If the feeder school policy was an attempt to appease those who were not so local then this position appears, at best, contradictory and, at worst, dishonest.

Whatever your view of the proposal, the original “vision” was clearly driven by the St Peter’s and St Thomas’ group. What changed was the involvement of the Russell Education Trust (RET) whose only existing school is not a faith school. It is also badly under subscribed (80 of 150 places taken in first year). As a private company, their motivation cannot be the same as the aggrieved parents. They firstly had to get approval for the school and now they need to fill it to maximise revenue coming into it. They will not mind where pupils come from.

But maybe these parents should not be so concerned. We know that the 2012 intake will come from “over 20 schools”, and Becket Keys admit that they still have places to fill, so maybe the school is not quite as popular as we have been led to believe. We mustn’t forget that admissions policies only come into force in the event of over subscription.

Stephen Mayo

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