WFDSS has now received letters from both Oasis and Tauheedul Free Schools in response to our ‘democratic challenge’. Our letter to both organisations did three things:
- It sought details of what consultation had taken place with the community prior to both organisations submitting their proposals to the DfE
- It set out what we expected both organisations to do to show that they were consulting in a meaningful way with all the stakeholders in our community.
- It called on them to confirm how they were going to meet this expectation.
The basic point is that the minimum that citizens in a democratic society should be able to expect of anyone who intends to set up a school is that the people doing it can demonstrate that they have taken into account the impact their proposal on the community, on the other schools in the borough and the local area.
The responses are very revealing about the strange, inverted world of Free Schools.
Oasis’s reply asks us to post the letter in full for all our supporters to see, so here it is. It contains no details either of past or future intentions over consultation. Instead, the letter says,
“I am writing to advise you that a full response will be made after we have heard whether our application for the proposed new school has been approved by the Department for Education. We are expecting this announcement to be made in the next few weeks; it may be after the 10 May 2013 deadline stipulated in your letter.”
Tauheedul’s response, which you can read at the bottom, is similarly unenlightening. Vague claims are made about the past consultation and about intentions to consult in the future but without concrete details. Tauheedul claim they have been
“actively working with members of the local community for over 18 months. During this time, we have engaged in a regular dialogue and consultation with a whole range of individual and community stakeholders, including the Local Authority and local residents. We have taken on board their comments, aspirations and concerns in developing our proposal for the 'Waltham Forest Leadership Academy for Girls' that is currently being considered by the Department for Education. We are aware of our obligations regarding statutory consultation. Should we receive initial approval from the DfE, the current plans are to engage in a comprehensive consultation between June and July 2013. The detailed plans will be on our website www.tauheedulschools.com.”
In sum, both organisations are distinctly vague and evasive about their past consultation. Tauheedul’s statement, for example, talks about ‘a whole range of individual and community stakeholders’ but provides no details, nor does it mention schools. Neither organisation makes any effort to commit to meet our expectations. We will be pursuing the claims made in Tauheedul’s statement, in particular. This is not as easy as it might sound. Interestingly, a google search on Tauheedul's proposed 'Waltham Forest Leadership Academy for Girls' produces only the document at the DfE that lists applications received. There is no other information about the proposal available via the internet.
But the crux of the issue would appear to be this. The Department for Education is going to make a judgment about whether these school proposals should be approved without any publicly available evidence of any meaningful consultation or impact assessment.
If full details of the two applications are not made public until after the DfE gives approval, in what meaningful sense can the DfE decision be said to take account of informed local concerns? How can the DfE show that it is aware of any concerns raised by the community in deciding whether to approve the school or not?
Secondly, if comprehensive and consultation follows DfE approval, can any consultation launched fulfil the statutory obligation to consult on the question of ‘whether’ there will be a free school or not, or will it in effect be about how an already approved free school is set-up? How can consultation be said to be at a formative stage when the proposal has been approved by the DfE?
The government seems to have designed a profoundly anti-democratic system for setting up new schools. A government department makes decisions that will have a deep impact on our local schools without any evidence of any democratic process, either formal or informal and we cannot hold them accountable. Organisations wishing to set up a new school appear to feel under no obligation to hold any meaningful consultation, take account of the impact of their proposals or uphold the basic standards of transparency and accountability required of other public bodies.
If or when the Department sees fit to pronounce on the proposals they have in front of them from Oasis and Tauheedul, people in Waltham Forest who have concerns about Free Schools, academies, government education policies, increasing segregation or even just basic democracy will have to make their voices heard, because the system appears to have been designed not to listen.
Tauheedul’s response, dated 12 May 2013:
Dear Jonathan,We appreciate the time that you have taken out in learning about our project.
Thank you for your e-mail.
As you may be aware we have been actively working with members of the local community for over 18 months. During this time, we have engaged in a regular dialogue and consultation with a whole range of individual and community stakeholders, including the Local Authority and local residents.We have taken on board their comments, aspirations and concerns in developing our proposal for the 'Waltham Forest Leadership Academy for Girls' that is currently being considered by the Department for Education.
We are aware of our obligations regarding statutory consultation. Should we receive initial approval from the DfE, the current plans are to engage in a comprehensive consultation between June and July 2013. The detailed plans will be on our websitewww.tauheedulschools.com.
We have looked at your website and do share your aspirations for greater choice and a better standard of education in Waltham Forest. We hope that all members of the community can work together to address these challenges in the coming years.
Waltham Forest Leadership Academy for Girls