Three weeks ago I reported on the apparent indication that the funding agreement “consultation report” sent to the Secretary of State for Education by the proposers of Becket Keys Church of England School was not the one published on their website. “Becket Keys Consultation Report – “Exact version” or brief summary?” http://wp.me/p2dr6s-8S
As no-one associated with Becket Keys was prepared to clarify this matter, I submitted a Freedom of Information (FOI) request to the Department for Education (DfE). Last week I received the response.
As per the promise of Richard Elms of the “Russell Education Trust” (RET), it appears the version on the site is the actual one that the Secretary of State is supposed to be assessing. As previously stated, it is inaccurate and misses key responses. In response to the information, I pointed this out to Ian Jacobs of the DfE’s Free Schools Group. The correspondence is provided below:
Wed, 27 Jun 2012 09:34:31
“Thank you for your email dated 15 June about the Becket Keys Free School consultation report. I am responding as the lead official for Free Schools in Essex.I have dealt with your request under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (the Act). Under section 21 of the Act, the Department is not required to provide information in response to a request if it is reasonably accessible to you. The consultation report that was sent to the Department is published and available on the Becket Keys Free School Trust’s website: http://www.becketkeys.org/index.php
If you have any queries about this email, please contact me. Please remember to quote the reference number above in any future communications.
Ian Jacobs Free Schools Group
Wed, 27 Jun 2012 09:50:48
Dear Mr Jacobs,
I am grateful for your prompt response to my query and your confirmation that the report published on the Becket Keys website is the exact version sent to the Department for Education.
I am saddened to have it confirmed that this is the report that such an important decision is apparently going to be based on as it is incomplete and misses out key responses to the very badly run exercise that the proposers undertook. Two of three concerns that I raised in my response are not included in this report. I am aware of others whose responses have also been misrepresented.
My summary of the situation, which includes my entire response to the Becket Keys “consultation”, is available here: http://wp.me/p2dr6s-8c
On this basis alone, I do not believe that the Becket Keys proposers have met their duty to consult and the Secretary of State cannot possibly agree a funding agreement with a party that have witheld information from him.
I would be grateful if you passed this to him.
Of course, as I have previously indicated, the approval and consultation process does not appear particularly robust. In Beccles, Suffolk for example, the proposed free school has been approved despite their consultation report showing an overwhelming number of respondents were opposed to the school. The Times Educational Supplement reported as follows:
The three year group school will apparently open in September with 37 pupils.
What is important in the case of Becket Keys is that we all understand on what basis the school’s state funding has been approved. We can then hold those who have made the decision accountable for it. If the Secretary of State believes that they have met their “duty to consult” then we know how little evidence he seems to require.
We also have a clearer view on how the RET operate. Not content with providing a “consultation” that did not allow for questions to be answered or even for a public opportunity to question the proposers, they have chosen not to report responses that were provided in good faith to assist the Secretary of State’s assessment. Most worryingly, omitting any that questioned their own credentials to run a state school.
I was among several respondents to copy the Secretary of State, our MP, Eric Pickles, and the Chelmsford Diocese into my submission. If they all choose to ignore the gaps in the RET’s report then they must all be accountable for the private company’s future conduct and performance once they have control of state funds. I have forwarded the above correspondence to Mr Pickles to underline the point.*
Many will remember the description of the consultation process by the RET’s Karen Lynch in the local press as “just a hoop to jump through”. She may have been ill-advised to show such over-confidence but in doing so she just may have given us all an indication of the sham that this process appears to be. The National Union of Teachers are so concerned about it nationally, in particular the lack of any evidence of any analysis of the impact on neighbouring schools, that they are considering industrial and legal action. Becket Keys is mentioned in this report:
I have submitted our experience in Brentwood to them to further inform their campaign.
*This is not the first time I have written to our MP on matters pertaining to the proposed free school and on each occasion I have received a reply in good time. True to form, having posted this blog, I recieved the following letter from Mr Pickles on 7th July for which I am grateful. I will publish his follow up when I receive it.