Before Christmas, Richard and I took up an invitation to meet with two of Brentwood’s Secondary Head teachers. In a convivial and constructive meeting, we discussed the town’s new educational landscape and, in particular, whether there were any plans to protect curricula diversity and expand vocational provision in the borough.
We were greatly encouraged by our discussions and we can now share news that was given to us in that meeting concerning an initiative to provide local vocational training that begins this coming term.
St Martin’s Headteacher Mike O’Sullivan is now the Chair of the local Secondary Head’s group because, as he explained, he has been in post for the longest period of any of his colleagues. Carole Herman, having just completed the first term of her second year as Head at Shenfield High School (SHS), is the second most established and is Deputy Chair. Both have been Heads elsewhere before taking up their posts in Brentwood and so can draw on their wider experiences to inform their views on how secondary education could develop in the coming years.
It was made clear to us that there is absolute agreement amongst the Brentwood Secondary Heads group, which has contained three new members since September, that there is still a need to offer vocational courses alongside the academic provision that the town currently enjoys. The view expressed in the meeting was that this should ideally be on offer from the age of 14 which reflects previous recommendations locally.
We recently reported on comments from Essex County Council (ECC) that options were still being considered for the remainder of the former Sawyers Hall College (SHC) site (“Vocational provision on former SHC site – Latest from Essex CC” http://wp.me/p2dr6s-bo) but, while Havering College will continue existing courses there, we understand that this will not be expanded for the time being.
While ECC may keep an interest in developments, particularly as owners of the SHC site, the reality is that all of our secondary schools, bar Brentwood County High School (BCHS), are now Academies and, therefore, not under local authority control. It is clear then that, having been denied a vocational facility by the Secretary of State for Education, the expansion of provision in the town can only be initiated locally.
Mike and Carole were clear that this could only be achieved through collaboration between our schools and, as such, was very much in the remit of the Heads group to develop and progress. We were pleased to then learn that an initiative was already underway spearheaded by two of our Secondaries.
Carole Herman briefed us on the plan that she has developed with new BCHS Head Stephen Drew to provide vocational options to a group of Year 10 students from this month.
Following his experience at Passmores Academy, Mr Drew recommended talking to a training provider that his former school had used in Harlow and that had provided good outcomes for the young people who had attended their courses. The provider is the Construction Training Partnership (CTP) which is run, and owned, by Mr John Collier. Their website can be accessed below:
Following several meetings with Mr Collier over last term, the two Heads have agreed to use CTP to provide courses tailored for selected Year 10 students from SHS and BCHS starting from this term. Approximately 5-10 young people from each school will travel to Harlow one day a week to follow this path, the remainder of the week will be spent at their respective schools to continue their academic study. The course is being funded by the two schools, which also covers bus travel for the students.
We agreed that it was not ideal that travel was necessary but, given current options, meeting the needs of current students who have been identified as likely to benefit from this option now seems preferable to having to wait for a suitable location in town.
We can also report that this is also being investigated as the relationship with CTP grows.
It is envisaged that a partnership between Brentwood’s secondary schools and CTP can see provision in place in our town for the school year 2013-2014. Work is in progress to locate a suitable site and develop a formal working relationship.
We are grateful to Carole Herman for sharing this information so that we can keep local interested parties informed. We will of course monitor developments and report back where appropriate.
It was also refreshing that two of our local Head teachers took time to meet us with a view to engaging the community in the development of provision in Brentwood and we thank them for it. They acknowledge that there is real interest locally and willingness amongst parents and others to support our schools and their students.
While we may not always be uncritical, there is a mutual understanding that openness helps the community to understand the context within which decisions are taken and that releasing the potential of all of our young people is intended as their main purpose.
We have agreed to keep communication channels open on that basis and look forward to accepting further invitations throughout the year and sharing what we can here.