What Brentwood’s current (and future) secondary schools did this summer

We could only speculate about what the summer held for the existing and future secondary schools in Brentwood when we wrote our post “Six weeks holiday and then…?” http://wp.me/p2dr6s-9N on 20th July. We hoped, and expected, that we would have a much clearer picture about educational provision in the town in time for the return to school next week. Developments have not been quite as we anticipated however.

The publication of 2012 GCSE and A level results have provided an interesting indication of the apparent health of existing provision. Remaining staff and governors at Sawyers Hall College (SHC) have successfully seen current students through their exams and transitioned pupils to Shenfield High School and should be congratulated for their professionalism in doing so in trying circumstances. But what of the proposed Becket Keys Church of England School that is to replace it?

My expectation was that by this point, despite the concerns highlighted elsewhere on this site, a funding agreement would have been signed by the Secretary of State for Education and made public by the school. However on 11th August I received a letter from our local MP, Rt Hon Eric Pickles, that contained a response from Rt Hon Michael Gove MP confirming that, as of 2nd August, he had “yet to make a decision about whether to enter into a Funding Agreement with the Becket Keys Free School Trust” (”Rt Hon Michael Gove MP responds to Becket Keys funding agreement consultation concerns” http://wp.me/p2dr6s-a2 ).

That same week an article appeared in national magazine Private Eye that appeared to cast doubt on the claimed credentials of the “Russell Education Trust” (RET) and, explicitly, the “track record” of its joint owner, Mrs Karen Lynch. (“RET, and Becket Keys, come to the attention of Private Eye”   http://wp.me/p2dr6s-9Y ). I have not seen any response to date about the contents of the article from anyone involved with Becket Keys.

In between these two developments, on August 9th, Becket Keys published a “Summer Update” that was sent to all on their mailing list and published on their website. Perhaps this would shed light on the funding agreement status and provide some form of response to the concerns raised in Private Eye? Unfortunately not, the link is here:


I have also checked the Becket Keys facebook page for clues, two people have raised the subject of funding and have yet to receive a response but subsequent correspondence to those queries has confirmed that the school is looking at options to provide swimming, will be playing touch rugby in PE and have recommended a specific type of scientific calculator for pupils.

I cannot shed any light on the apparent delay here as the status of the Funding Agreement is not in the public domain, I am also in the dark as to what the implications are of it not being signed by the middle of next week when the school “expects” to open. Given the evidence of what has been signed nationally for free schools to date, and the money already provided for pre-opening, it seems inconceivable that it won’t be but I can’t imagine how this is being regarded by parents intending to send their children there on 5th September. If anyone has any information that we are not currently party to that can clarify the situation then we would be grateful to receive it.

It will be interesting to see what justification is provided by the Department for Education for signing an agreement as and when it is forthcoming. If the summer’s GCSE and A Level results for existing schools are anything to go by it cannot be to “drive up educational standards”. The results of the secondary schools serving Brentwood’s five parishes are impressive.

A level A*-C passes at Shenfield High School (SHS) rose 6.5% to 77%, St Martin’s School gained 74.4% and Brentwood County High School (BCHS) saw a huge rise from 61.5% to 76%. The national average for all schools was reported at 76.6% but further perspective can be gained when looking at the figure for state comprehensives that was expected to fall slightly from 2011’s 72%.

There was further good headline news this week regarding GCSEs for these schools although BCHS have already flagged that, in common with a large amount of schools nationally, GCSE English results do not reflect expectations based on guidance provided in January. A link to the story covered by the Brentwood Gazette is provided below. Despite that BCHS have seen a 12% rise in A*-C passes to 87% a figure matched by St Martin’s. SHS pupils gained an impressive 91% pass rate.


These results do seem to further undermine the view presented by some correspondents who purportedly supported the Becket Keys proposal on-line and in print on the basis that current provision was poor. I send my congratulations to all students, staff and parents who have worked hard to achieve them.

This also brings me back to the school that, if successful, risks depriving those existing schools of resource. I find it jarring in that context that, via Facebook and Twitter today, Becket Keys have asked their supporters to “find some time to ask for God’s blessing for Becket Keys and for all the schools in Brentwood”.

So, aside from providing a “School Prayer” today are we any the wiser about the proposed school than we were at the beginning of the summer? The Brentwood Gazette has confirmed that the school will rent the front section of the SHC site from Essex CC from 1st September. Becket Keys wish to erect a fence around this but, as we understand it, will still have to provide access to those already using buildings within that section of the site. We have no further clarity about the use of the rest of the site but indications are that current users will continue there for the time being at least. We will seek to clarify this in the near future.

This does appear to indicate that Becket Keys will not grow to the size of the other schools in Brentwood, it also questions whether there will be room for a Sixth Form.

One further piece of information was revealed in the “Summer Update” however that would have been of interest to those reading Private Eye 24 hours earlier. Becket Keys confirmed that they had moved to “finalise our Governing Body”. They explain that “spaces are reserved for parents and they can only be elected once the school opens in September” which seems absolutely reasonable until they announce that “two parents from local primary school (sic) will serve”. There is no explanation about their appointment or why they are not elected posts.

The remaining five posts of this seven member body are taken up by the original headteacher frontmen of the proposal, Mr Iain Gunn and Mr Andy Scott-Evans and the priests of the associated churches to their schools.

The final member will represent the RET.

Her name is Mrs Karen Lynch.

It’s been an interesting summer.

Stephen Mayo

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