Six weeks holiday and then…?

A long school year is over and children and school staff are starting their well earned break. In six weeks time they will return to a new school landscape in Brentwood but, extraordinarily, uncertainty continues as to what that will look like.

Brentwood County High School will have a new Headteacher, Mr Stephen Drew, Shenfield High School will be embarking on their first full school year as an Academy and the proposed Becket Keys Church of England should be opening its doors on part of the Sawyers Hall College site. We still don’t know who will occupy the rest of it.

The “free school” has conducted an induction day, it has uniform for sale but it still doesn’t seem to have signed a funding agreement. As we have previously reported, “Parents have a better chance to make an informed choice” , until this is signed the school is not a “legal entity” according to Essex County Council and, as such, confirmed numbers of those attending cannot be finalised. This is not only important for the new school, it also affects existing ones as they cannot be sure what their budget will be for the new term.

This scenario is covered today in the Sunderland Echo regarding the case of Grindon Hall Christian School, an existing private school that is converting to become a state funded “free school” in September. In this case, in contrast to Becket Keys, the school is oversubscribed but is not in a position to confirm who will be going there in September until their funding agreement is agreed.

This delay is intriguing as the funding of free schools has come under a great deal of scrutiny nationally in the last few weeks. The case of the “Beccles 37” is probably the most well known example. Here, despite considerable opposition and a consultation report that confirmed that the majority of respondents were against the school, a funding agreement has been signed with the private “sponsors” the Seckford Foundation. However, it has subsequently transpired that only 37 children have applied to fill the 162 places on offer for September.

The National Union of Teachers (NUT) has also questioned the use of state money to support the free school programme following last week’s announcement on the proposed next wave. They also continue to campaign for the public release of impact assessments, that should legally be used to judge the effect of setting up a free school on existing schools in an area before granting funds.

We reported on our concerns over the Becket Keys “consultation report” in our recent post “Two pages: how taxpayers money is being awarded to Becket Keys” and the response we received from Rt.Hon. Eric Pickles MP suggested that the matter was still under consideration.

Despite still not having signed a funding agreement to this point, the Russell Education Trust (RET) continue their PR drive on the Becket Keys website. Oddly they have published the dates for “Open mornings” and “Open evenings” in the Autumn and yet require those wishing to attend to fill out a form citing “high demand” as the reason. In common with their overall approach to this point, they seem to have misunderstood the meaning of “Open”. Many hundreds of children and parents attended the Open days provided by existing Secondaries last year, we don’t recall any of them requiring notice when we attended. Perhaps the RET should concentrate on getting their publically funded school open before they start trying to control who can visit it.    

Stephen and Kathryn Mayo


  1. Hi, yes the induction day has taken place and my child thoroughly enjoyed it and can’t wait to start at Becket Keys. The teaching was dynamic and innovative and my child was captivated. Yes, the uniform is for sale and we have bought it. It looks very smart and will create a fantastic image for the school. Have you thought how this negative press might impact on the families of those children looking forward to attending Becket Keys and the children themselves who can understand what is being written? Let’s hope the Funding Agreement is signed soon so that the school can open and be left to get on with educating the children.
    With regard to the Open Mornings/Evenings, we had to book a place on tours of local comprehensives and grammar school and I think this is also favoured by independent schools. Is this not just making something out of nothing for the sake of negativity?

    • Thank you for your comment Mary.

      We’re glad that your child enjoyed the induction day and that they are looking forward to starting Secondary School. We are also intrigued about your comment regarding the teaching as it suggests that you were also in attendance when teaching took place and we were unaware that parents were able to attend the whole day with their children.

      We are concerned about the impact on families and children throughout Brentwood of the decision to open this school. Unfortunately there seems to be a lack of understanding (or even denial) amongst Becket Keys and its supporters of the impact that this will have on the children and families of existing schools and, as this is not given coverage anywhere else, we make no apology for raising this. Please refer to the Guest Blog on the 1st July.

      It is a fact that the funding agreement has not been signed and it is intriguing, given recent national coverage, to try to understand why this might be. If you perceive this as “negativity” then that is a matter for you.

      You are correct to point out that certain school tours during regular school hours do require bookings to be made, but no such requirement is made by any of Brentwood’s state funded schools for Open Days/Evenings in our experience. Becket Keys is not offering any opportunity to tour the school without booking according to the website. It will be state funded and not a grammar or independent school so the comparisson is a fair one.

      Stephen Mayo

  2. Hi,

    I obviously wasn’t in attendance on the induction day but I feel my child has enough experience of school life to make a fairly sound judgement on what teaching is like. As I work in education I also feel I can get a fairly good idea from the descriptions I have been given of the day. I made an appointment last year to tour three state funded comprehensives, and that is a fact. I will not be reading this blog any further as I now feel that you are implying I am a liar which I am sure would not be the intention of a fair-minded blog on education in Brentwood. It would appear that anyone else’s opinions other than your own are not welcome.
    Also my comment on negativity relates to your reference to Open Days not to the funding agreement, as you imply.

    • Thank you again for your comment Mary.

      At no point has anyone implied that you are a liar. You have made an interesting, and very strong, endorsement of the teaching staff at Becket Keys which could be instructive to readers of this blog, and those in our group with considerable experience in education themselves, but it is important to be clear about the basis of it. We thank you for the clarification which will enable readers to make their own judgement.

      With the greatest respect, you refer to “this negative press” when referencing our view on the funding agreement delay and impact on affected families, hence my comment. Regarding Open Days, no-one has suggested that you did not make appointments as you describe, but all state funded Secondary schools in Brentwood have an open evening/day open to all that does not require an appointment to attend. Becket Keys are not offering this.

      Finally, a review of the comments on this site should disabuse of the view that comments that don’t reflect our opinions are not welcome. While we would block any abuse on this site, no comment that has been posted has ever been deleted. I am bound to say that this is in direct contrast to the approach of the “Russell Education Trust” who, as reported in last week’s Gazette, and demonstrated throughout this site, do not operate with such openness.

      Stephen Mayo

      • Following this thread we received a comment this afternoon that, for the first time, broke our blog rules for publication and has therefore been removed. The comment made reference to personal Twitter accounts of group members. Educating Brentwood has a Twitter account, @askbrentwood, and a facebook group that posts comments, news stories etc. that have to meet our mutually agreed publication policy to be posted. Anything published by individual members, on any other medium, are their personal views and nothing to do with this group and are therefore not an appropriate topic for discussion on this site.

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