What have we really learned about Becket Keys this week?

What a busy few days it has been for news about the proposed Becket Keys Church of England School. Since being informed by the free school’s proposers about the change in admissions policy seven days ago, (see: Becket Keys admissions policy change angers supporters http://wp.me/p2dr6s-92 ) a concerted effort has been made to calm vocal dissenters and reassure parents who intend to send their children to their first day of secondary school there in just over nine weeks time.

Those on the mailing list were treated to “Becket Keys News” via e-mail on the evening of Tuesday 26th which followed a hastily arranged session at St Peter’s Juniors to placate supporters from the school worried about the admissions policy changes. The following morning the Brentwood Gazette published a story on the conflict with quotes from the “Head teacher designate” Andy Scott-Evans:

http://www.thisistotalessex.co.uk/Brentwood-s-Becket-Keys-school-conflict/story-16455806-detail/story.html

For those who are not on the mailing list, the full e-mail is available here:

Becket Keys news

In addition, Becket Keys returned to the site of the initial supporter dissent and explained their position on the admissions policy change as follows:

Key points: 1. We were put into a difficult position over this. 2. The most important thing for now is getting the school open. 3. We remain 100% committed to the parents who have worked so hard to open the school and will do all we can to ensure that places remain available for them. 4. There are various things that we can do in future years. 5. Admissions were always going to be hard for this school. 6. According to our research and modelling the change in admissions actually made very little difference to the order of ranking for this year’s 177 applications.

We should therefore have a clearer picture on the path to opening and running the free school following this relative deluge, but do we? How much actual fact is contained within these communications and how much is still unclear?

We know: Becket Keys is under-subscribed for September 2012.

Following the well publicised story that the proposed school would offer all 176 (now 177?) applicants a place at the school, Becket Keys have now publically acknowledged that around 50 declined.

We don’t know: By how much.

The picture is very cloudy, I have been told all sorts of numbers over the last month or so, some lower and some higher. As Graham Ranby explained at our Open Meeting , until Becket Keys is a legal entity we will not know. Because of the one-off “two offers” process this year we will not be clear until September 5th when children actually attend their first day of school.

As we reported in “Previous consultation experiences of the Russell Education Trust (RET)” http://wp.me/p2dr6s-5T , their track record in this area would indicate that it would be wise to take a cautious approach. In mid-July last year, the position at the 150 place Bristol Free School was reported in the local press thus:

“About two-thirds of its places are filled and head teacher Richard Clutterbuck said parents were still signing up their children.”

They opened with 80 pupils.

We know: Feeder schools will not feature in the 2013 admissions policy.

We don’t know: Why.

The Facebook comment appears to indicate that the complaint by the Secondary Heads in Essex regarding the over-complicated process forced their hand. Did the Schools Adjudicator rule on it? We already know that “over 20 schools” will provide pupils for the first intake and so the claim presented to the Department for Education, that this is a local school, is dubious to say the least. The juggling act between promoting the school as a popular choice while calming the nerves of supporters living outside North Brentwood is what has made this “difficult”.

We know: “Foundation governors” apparently already exist.

Mr Scott-Evans’ quote in the Gazette clearly states that they were involved in forming the new admissions policy.

We don’t know: Who they are.

Prospective parents surely should and how they were appointed.

We know: That the appointed teaching staff have an “average experience of around 7 years”.

We must assume that refers to the nine on their website. We also know how averages work, so some must have less.

We don’t know: What their experience is of teaching what is listed against their name, in some cases across multiple subjects.

We know: Use of the Sawyers Hall College (SHC) site is still not finally agreed.

Signing the funding agreement is reported as being held up by this (although presumably the Secretary of State may also wish to meet his statutory duty and assess the two page “consultation report” and do an impact assessment too?)

We don’t know: What has yet to be decided, what facilities will continue to be shared or who else will still be using the site.

We know: That there is apparently demand for a wall and boundary fence and that this has been “agreed (subject to planning)”.

We don’t know: Why this is necessary. What parts of the site will be fenced off. What implications this has for other users of the site. Whether this is an appropriate use of state funds.

Fundamentally who has this been “agreed” with? Essex County Council (ECC) will own the site. Will they be putting in the planning application? Having checked with local council contacts, dependant on the precise nature of the application, these take a minimum of eight weeks and often at least three months and will have to be approved by the planning committee. Whatever has been “agreed” will almost certainly not be in place in September.

We know: That Becket Keys considers that “the most important thing for now is getting the school open”.

This will mean funding is secured and resource per head of pupil will be shared across six schools in Brentwood and not the five agreed in 2009.

We don’t know: Any more about the RET’s suitability to control taxpayers money.

Stephen Mayo

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