The Becket Keys Consultation: Accountability Denied

In March 2012, following local pressure, the proposed Becket Keys Church of England School announced that they would meet the statutory requirement to consult on funding, governance, admissions and how they intend to co-ordinate their provision for students with special needs. The period set aside for this spanned the 7th March to 20th April, which, contrary to assurances previously given, included the two week Easter holiday.

They asked those who were aware of their consultation to provide a view, by e-mail, as to whether the Secretary of State should sign a funding agreement with those who will make up their “Academy Trust”. At the beginning of this period we did not believe that sufficient information had been provided by the proposers to enable an informed response.

To help inform our response to the consultation we drafted some questions that were not answered by study of the Becket Keys website, the funding agreement template or information provided in any other media that we were aware of. Given that the allotted period was already under way, we sent them to the Becket Keys proposers and requested that they be addressed as a matter of urgency and, ideally, in public. As all meetings to that point had been specifically for prospective parents of the proposed school, we also recommended that a completely open public meeting be held to enable maximum participation by the local community.

On March 30th we received a mail from Richard Elms of the “Russell Education Trust” refusing to answer any of these questions and, furthermore, refusing to respond to any requests for information subsequently. This is available on our post “Becket Keys will not be answering questions from Educating Brentwood” http://wp.me/p2dr6s-6N

A public consultation meeting was never held by the Becket Keys proposers. In its absence we set up our own and invited representatives of the proposers to attend, “Open Meeting – Sawyers Hall College Library – April 18th @19:45” http://wp.me/p2dr6s-7b

The response to the meeting was extraordinary given that we had provided just over a week’s notice of it. Parents, town Councillors of all parties, head teachers, teachers, governors, members of the local press and interested residents all attended. Sawyers Hall College Head and proposer of South Essex UTC, Stephen Capper agreed to be on the panel as did Graham Ranby on behalf of Essex County Council.

No-one from Becket Keys, despite our invitations, attended.

Despite sending numerous requests for clarification or questions about the proposed free school all correspondence has been ignored since this date.

We do not believe that this constitutes transparent behaviour or an acceptable degree of accountability for those who expect to be allocated public money or to run a school.

Our original list of questions, and supporting comments are provided here:

“Funding

Will Becket Keys be fully funded with money from the Department for Education (DfE) if the funding agreement is agreed?

Will any other sources of income be used to support the school?

The Russell Education Trust (RET) have stated that they will fund any places above the 150 offered during the applications process for 2012 entry. Where are the funds for this going to come from?

Do the RET have sufficient funds to open the school without signing a funding agreement? If so, why is state funding necessary?

What sum per head of student will be provided by the DfE to Becket Keys on signing the funding agreement?

Will Becket Keys use the entire Sawyers Hall College site?

If not, what plans are there for the remainder?

Will there be any obligation on Becket Keys to provide funding to cover the whole site if only part of it is used?

If not, who will fund the remainder?

Will the Chelmsford diocese of the Church of England be providing any funds?

Governance

What role will the RET play in controlling the funds for and governance of the school?

It is unclear from the websites of the RET and Education London what experience they have in secondary education or in controlling state funds. Could referenced examples be provided to illustrate their expertise?

What formal role will the Chelmsford diocese play in the governance of the school?

According to the website, the initial board of governors will be the primary heads who fronted the proposal, and representatives of the RET and the diocese of Chelmsford. “Parents, staff and local community representatives” will then be invited to join.

How will these representatives be elected?

How do Becket Keys intend to identify “local community representatives?

Will they have to be Christian?

Will they be elected to the board?

How will this election be conducted?

In the absence of LEA involvement, how will Becket Keys ensure that the school is accountable and reflects the local community?

What plans have Becket Keys got for actively collaborating with existing schools in Brentwood?

Have any agreements been made to provide any part of the curriculum via another school or college in the area?

Admissions

Following the complaint to the Department for Education from the British Humanist Association, how will Becket Keys ensure the 50% cap on selection by religion is not breached by their admissions policy?

Who will monitor adherence to national admissions guidelines?

Who will take a judgement in the event of a dispute?

Does allowing all applying students to gain a place for 2012 mean that the national admissions criteria does not apply?

Will a breakdown of selection by criteria in the event of over subscription for previous years be available to the public in time for future admission rounds?

What steps are Becket Keys taking to ensure that the academic ability of students on admission reflects that of the wider Brentwood community?

Special Educational Needs

What steps are Becket Keys taking to ensure that the proportion of children with special educational needs reflects the wider Brentwood community?

In the absence of LEA involvement, how will Becket Keys ensure that national policies for children with SEN are applied?

Without answers to the vast majority of these questions it is impossible to provide a properly informed view of whether a funding agreement should be signed or not. Principally because we don’t know what’s in it.

We urge the Becket Keys proposers to provide documentation and a supporting public meeting to ensure that Brentwood residents have complete clarity on what they are being asked to approve and are able to form a judgement on what impact that may have on the town.

This is an urgent requirement.”

Comments

  1. s9(2) Academies Act 2010 states
    ‘The Secretary of State must take into account what the impact of establishing the additional school would be likely to be on maintained schools, Academies and institutions within the further education area in which the additional school is (or is proposed to be) situtated’

    My question is how is this proposed school NOT going to negatively impact the other schools in the area?

    There are currently surplus places in Brentwood schools. There was a full consultation process about education in Brentwood in 2008/09 the outcome of which was that the school on the Sawyers site was not needed for the children in the Brentwood area. A new school will negatively impact all the schools in Brentwood because a school’s budget is dictated by the number of pupils and there are only so many pupils to go around.

    The main proponents for the free school have stated on their website the following facts and figures regarding the impact on the existing schools in the Brentwood area. These statements are not factually correct. (Specific observations follow each point)

    Statement from website
    1. ‘There is also concern about the size of the new school that it may lead to a reduction in pupil numbers in other local schools. We believe this is over stated, because: if it had not been closing, probably at least 100, if not more, pupils would still be enrolling in Year 7 at Sawyers Hall College every year.’

    Obsevations
    As far as can be ascertained the intake at Sawyers Hall for the year 2009/10 was 40 pupils, 2010/11 0 pupils, 2011/12 0 pupils. The proponents figure of 100 pupils is over exaggerated and in any event the new free school is planning to take 150 children per year which is obviously going to impact other secondary schools

    Statement from website
    2. ‘A significant number of pupils who will start at Becket Keys, would have gone to either:-A selective ECC school-An independent school-A school in another Local Authority, Other schools are large, have large intakes and in some cases may have increased their numbers to take pupils from Sawyers Hall College.’

    Observations
    – The selective ECC schools in the area are the grammar schools(KEGs, Chelmsford County High and Westcliffe) and Brentwood Ursuline Convent School (which takes only 10% of girls based on an aptitude for music test). These schools take from a very wide area and would only account for a very small handful of children. In 2011 25 out of 30 children who moved into year 7 from one of the proposed feeder schools did not attend a selective ECC school, an independent school nor a school in another local authority. They attended one of the existing state secondary schools in Brentwood. I would like to know where children attended from the other proposed feeder schools

    – Finally the only school which I am aware increased its intake to cater for Sawyers Hall was Shenfield High School and only then by agreeing to admit 20 more children.

    Reply
  2. Thank you for your email of 15 May addressed to the Minister for Children and Families about the Becket Keys Free School consultation. You will appreciate that the Minister receives a large volume of correspondence and I have therefore been asked to respond on her behalf.

    Before entering into a Funding Agreement (the legal contract that effectively establishes the Free School ), the Academy Trust has a statutory obligation under section 10 of the Academies Act 2010 to consult such persons they think is appropriate. This is the formal opportunity for those that have a particular view about the Free School to provide a response.

    We would expect the Academy Trust to carry out a consultation exercise which provides sufficient opportunities for those people and organisations that will be effected by the opening of the Free School , to express their views and to take these views into account when deciding whether to enter into the Funding Agreement. However, the Department does not provide advice and guidance to Free School Trusts on how they should carry out their consultation and it is a matter for the Academy Trust themselves to decide.

    The Secretary of State will consider whether he is satisfied that it is reasonable for the Funding Agreement to be entered into in light of what he knows about the consultation undertaken by the Academy Trust.

    Yours sincerely,

    Ian Jacobs
    Free Schools Group
    Ian.JACOBS@education.gsi.gov.uk
    http://www.education.gov.uk

    Reply
  3. There is a sentence missing from comment above, to the effect that I had received an email from the Minister saying ….

    Reply

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