As we prepared for the new school year it appeared that a rapidly devised plan by Essex County Council (ECC) to establish a sixth school in the same road in Brentwood had been shelved. Following clarification from ECC in the past ten days, it seems that view may have been premature.
Earlier this month we published a statement from ECC that seemed to confirm that there would not be a fifth primary school in Sawyers Hall Lane after confirmation that they had failed to secure central government funding for the scheme
“Plan for sixth school in Sawyers Hall Lane scrapped” http://wp.me/p2dr6s-gp
The statement was quoted in the local press and seemed to indicate that any extra primary place provision would be fulfilled by existing schools and that other uses were under consideration for part of the former Sawyers Hall College site not in use by Becket Keys free school.
I have been approached by different parties since who have suggested that this is not necessarily the case and that the statement that we received did not explicitly rule out a new primary in Sawyers Hall Lane.
To remind you, this was the full statement:
“Unfortunately Essex County Council’s bid for central government funding, which was intended partly to help introduce a primary school on the former Sawyers Hall College site, was unsuccessful. There is still a need in the Brentwood area for additional provision to meet the future demand for primary school places and the County Council will be engaging with existing schools in the area to consider what options are available to increase provision in the locality.”
I took the concerns raised to us up with the press office last week and, while I am at least more reassured that nothing firm will be done without having to raise it in public via consultation, the use of the Sawyers Hall Lane is clearly still under consideration after all.
An edited version of the exchange is provided below:
We “have been approached this week by someone claiming that their may still be a plan to put a primary school on the former Sawyers Hall College site.
On re-reading the statement it does not actually provide absolute clarity on the points that they have raised. In order to clarify things once and for all for the local population please could you answer the following?
Is a primary school still being considered by Essex County Council as a possible option for the remainder of the Sawyers Hall College site? What options are under consideration for the site at present?
Are the “existing schools” that are mentioned in your statement primary schools? Is it envisaged to use existing primary schools to cater for future demand?
Have [any other parties] had discussions with Essex County Council representatives regarding the formation of a proposal to establish a primary free school on the former Sawyers Hall College site? If so, was any proposal dependant on the central government funding that Essex County Council applied for?
Have any other education provider, been given any assurances that part of the Sawyers Hall College site would be provided by Essex County Council if a bid to form a primary free school was successful?”
ECC response – 18th September:
“There is a need for more primary school places in Brentwood. In a very limited time window Essex County Council bid for additional funding from Government to create a new primary school in the retained part of the former Sawyers Hall College buildings. If this bid had been successful ECC would have had to publish proposals seeking a sponsor for the new school to be established as an academy. The bid was not successful. However, the need for places remains so ECC is exploring possible options and solutions with the primary schools in Brentwood. The use of the former Sawyers Hall buildings remains an option for a new academy. Once these discussions have advanced ECC will carry out a consultation about proposals for new primary school places in Brentwood. This is expected to be in October.
Hopefully this sets the picture out a bit clearer.”
My edited response on 18th September:
“I am grateful for the response but I’m afraid I am still a little confused.
Can I confirm that only existing state funded primary schools in Brentwood are involved in these discussions? No other party is involved?
Your statement clearly identifies that “a new academy” may still be established in Sawyers Hall Lane after all.
As I understand it only a free school proposal can provide a new establishment. That suggests that this possibility must have been raised with a party who would be interested in forming such a proposal as existing primary schools could not. The fact that Essex CC intends to consult on “proposals” next month suggests that some have been formed. Could you provide some clarification on this point?
As things stand, my reading of this, based on what has been provided so far, is that Essex CC are still minded to establish a new primary school in Sawyers Hall Lane with the help of a partner. But we still don’t know who has been approached.”
“Where the council decides that a new ‘school’ is needed that must be an ‘academy’ so the Council can publish proposals for interest in sponsoring that as a new academy or promoting it as a free school via the DfE bidding rounds. A free school is an academy, established under academy legislation.
More places are needed in Brentwood, this could be in the form of a new school or the expansion of an existing school. We are talking only with Brentwood Primary schools, nothing has been decided yet and nothing has been raised with any “party”. When a decision has been made we will consult on any proposals and this will be publicised accordingly.”
From our previous analysis of the case presented by ECC for extra provision stated, (“Essex CC justification for new primary school does not add up http://wp.me/p2dr6s-fZ ) while extra places may be required a whole new 30 entry school does not appear to be warranted.
Critically, if a new school is required, why would you site it in Sawyers Hall Lane where there are already two infants, two juniors and a secondary school?
When we broke the news of the original bid for central government plans, the County Councillor for the area affected was understandbly livid that he had no knowledge of it. Cllr Barry Aspinell’s statement was unequivocal:
We have again passed the information we have received to our local councillors who, like us, believed the threat on the local environment and residents that a sixth school would represent had receded.
As a minimum, I would have expected our County Council representative to be consulted should any such plan still exist and he should certainly be made aware of who has been involved in “discussions” and what the nature of them are. It appears that the transparency we champion is still lacking on this matter.
ECC have empty buildings to use on the former Sawyers Hall College site but, by considering a new primary school, they do not appear to be taking into account local factors into their process. As they acknowledge, the only way a new school can be formed is for someone to propose a new free school or for ECC to invite someone to – i.e. a private sponsor.
Central funding would have made this process easier but not, as some of us assumed, impossible.
We must take ECC at their word that only existing primaries have been in discussions over this matter at this point.
The exchange with ECC reveals that their conclusions should be known to us all shortly. We believe that this should be in the form of options and not a fait accompli given legitimacy via “consultation”.
By publishing this information we aim to keep council tax paying residents up to date with developments and to make a decison benefitting residents (not potential academy sponsors) more likely.