Monday, 9 December 2013

DV8 – the free school that isn’t a school

By Scarlet Harris

While the evangelical Christian free school, Oasis, and the Muslim girls’ free school, Tauheedul, have received a good deal of attention and comment already, the proposed DV8 free school seems to have generated less controversy.

As a non-denominational provider, it is arguable that DV8 will not have the same damaging effects on community cohesion as Oasis and Tauheedul. As a co-educational provider, it is true that it will not have the same impact on gender balance in existing schools (as is the case with Tauheedul which will leave existing mixed schools alarmingly short of girls). However, that’s not to say DV8’s proposal is a welcome one.

Our main concerns regarding the DV8 proposal are as follows:

1. We believe DV8 is already operating successfully as a private provider and can see no benefit to the learners or to the wider community in DV8 becoming a free school. DV8 has been operating as a private business for many years in Walthamstow. It provides vocational training in subjects relating to the music and creative industries. It offers apprenticeships to young people as well as entry level training. It currently operates from a site near Billet Road. We have sought advice from further education experts and the advice we have been given is that there is no logical reason why an existing private 16-19 provider should become a free school and that the main advantage for DV8 would be access to start up and capital funding from the Department for Education.

2. We are concerned that such a move may have a detrimental impact on existing, local 16-19 providers who will be competing with DV8. We have three local colleges (Monoux, Waltham Forest, and Epping colleges) which are all facing significant funding pressures and are being forced to compete for students. Giving further funding to a private provider who will be in direct competition with these colleges does not seem to be a good solution. Investing more funding into our existing colleges would seem like a better way of expanding and improving the post-16 offer available to young people in the borough.

The consultation survey asks for views on the curriculum offered by DV8 but there is very little in the way of information about the curriculum in the consultation document. This in itself is worrying. The DV8 website offers more in the way of employer facing information (about how cheap it is to employ an apprentice and how little off-the-job training is involved) than it does in the way of course content or links to sector skills council apprenticeship frameworks. As parents we would be concerned if our children’s college appeared to be more focused on selling cheap labour to employers than it did in promoting high quality training and education opportunities to young people and their parents.

Bizarrely the consultation survey also seeks views on the site of the college when – as far as we are aware - there is no site currently proposed. No site is mentioned in the consultation document. Although we know that DV8 currently operate from an existing site, it is not clear whether or not the proposed free school would be based at this same site or whether a new site is being sought.

If you are a local parent or resident who shares our concerns about the use of public funding to support existing private companies in providing post-16 training, please respond to the short DV8 consultation survey which is currently online. It closes on 14th December 2013.

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