Monday, 15 July 2013

It's official - there IS an alternative

Last week, the Local Authority’s Education Service published its plan for expanding Secondary Schools in Waltham Forest and, exactly as we have always predicted, it proves that there is NO NEED for the proposed Free Schools.

It also shows that the Council have very serious concerns about the Free School proposals and want to be able to implement their plan without them.

The document is comprehensive and deserves reading in full, which you can do here. But here we will draw out the key points made in the document.

1. There’s no need for the Free Schools

Contrary to the slightly hysterical fear-mongering propaganda that was put out by Oasis in particular around the time that they were gathering support for their proposal, it is possible to address the demand for places without building their, or Tauheedul’s proposed Free Schools.

The Council’s plan is complex and detailed but in essence it proposes two phases of expansion. In the first phase, covering the projected rise in demand up to 2015/16, the plan proposes working in partnership with interested existing secondary schools to provide additional classes, initially at least, on a temporary basis. This is partly because funding for capital developments is only available on an annual basis and partly because until a final decision on the Free Schools is made, no one will know what the real demand in the next few years will be.

In the second phase, from 2016/17, the Council plan proposes building a new secondary school. The Council’s appears to propose that this will be a new academy, with the preferred bidder for a sponsor being an existing Waltham Forest secondary school. The criteria for the bidders to meet emphasise things like demonstrating their familiarity with the community, ability to work in partnership with the Local Authority, a demonstrable record in carrying out meaningful consultations and a range of other objectives that sponsors like Oasis and Tauheedul will, frankly, find it hard to meet.

The Council plan is quite clear, this is the most cost effective and rational way of planning expansion to meet the demand for places as it grows. While an academy school will not be welcome for many, this represents a better option than the Free Schools and if it is indeed sponsored by a local secondary school and required to match the criteria for partnership working and high standards as laid out in the document, that arguably makes it as close to being a new community school as the Coalition government’s legislation allows.

2. The proposed Free Schools will actually make things worse:

It is clear from the plan that the Council views the Free Schools as causing more problems than they promise to solve. Here’s why:

The proposals are not worked out in partnership with the Council. They don’t cater for the demand for places as it really emerges on the projections in the document. In fact, if they open when they propose to open, the Free Schools will create a temporary surplus of places. As evidence from around the country shows, and we always insisted, this will lead them to compete directly with our local community schools, damaging them in the process by taking pupils and resources away.

Secondly, even when demand for places grows, the Free Schools don’t provide enough. Worse still, they are making it harder for the Council to plan to meet that demand. Until the final decision is taken about whether the Free Schools will be part of the mix, no one knows what will be needed and the Council can’t plan to meet it. Not that Michael Gove and the mandarins at the Department for Education care about that, of course, because it’s all part of the glorious rationality of destructive markets, before which our communities must bow, but let’s remember that the Free Schools were sold to local parents as a solution to growing demand. It’s clear now that they aren’t.

The Council has concerns about the quality of the educational provision offered by the Free Schools and their impact on our community:

Interestingly, the Council contrasts the improving Ofsted results in Waltham Forest’s secondary schools and contrasts them with the results of the Oasis chain of schools. Oasis’s schools perform consistently below the national secondary school average and they underperform against Waltham Forest’s schools. As for Tauheedul, the document echoes our own concerns about the impact of another single-sex school, especially another girl’s school, on the gender mix in the borough’s other schools. Something that is supposed to be about choice will in fact reduce choice for those parents who want their children to attend co-educational schools.

3. Democracy and accountability:

It is interesting to note throughout how the open and democratic this process has been and will be, in contrast to the proposed Free Schools. The whole plan is transparent and based on consultation and partnership. It will be open to questioning and scrutiny. The appendices detail how community consultation has taken place in previously approved school expansions.

This all contrasts sharply with the obscure processes of pseudo-consultation used to evidence local demand for the Free Schools. The consultations held by Oasis and Tauheedul to date and the farcical consultation being held by Tauheedul now, are a disgrace and should offend anyone who like to think that we live in a democratic society.

4. And finally…The Secretary of State reserves the right to ignore the Local Authority and the people of Waltham Forest:

The final key point, made in the plan, is that the Council’s position is not an easy one. No matter how sensible its plan, how rationally it caters to real demand projections and no matter what its reservations about the Free Schools, the Secretary of State can simply ignore it.

If we let him.

The plan notes that the Local Authority will make an assessment of its preferred bidder for the new secondary school, but that the Secretary of State ‘will reserve the right to put in place a proposer of his own choice’.

So there we have it. Michael Gove knows who should run a school in Waltham Forest better than the Local Authority, better than the other schools and better than any of us.

5. What we can do:

We now know that there is a viable alternative, as indeed, we always argued there was.

But, as we noted recently, this is a system designed not to listen to the concerns of lcol communities. There is only one way to make sure that the Secretary of State knows that if he imposes his own choice, there will be an outcry in Waltham Forest.

Sign our petition and help make it impossible to ignore.

If you haven’t already done so, now is the time to make your voice heard. Sign online here:

Say no to Michael Gove’s experimental religious schools and yes to a planned, democratic alternative based on partnership and our own community schools. 

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