Friday, 21 February 2014

The collapse of Oasis’s Free School proposal – what does it mean for Waltham Forest?

There is still very little information about what led to Oasis‘agreeing’ with the DfE to withdraw its application. Our Community, Our Schools is trying to find out more at the time of writing as there are many unanswered questions and we believe that people in Waltham Forest deserve to know the truth.

One key question regards the DfE’s statement that they looked at the admissions figures and decided that there is no need for a new secondary school until 2018. We – and the Local Authority – could have told them that months ago. The figures have been in circulation since late spring last year. The idea that the DfE has just discovered this stretches credibility.

It could be that the government is on the defensive nationally over Free Schools in the wake of a damaging National AuditOffice report that accused them of pushing to open schools more or less regardless of public value for money. Perhaps they have decided to pay more attention to local need.

It’s also possible that the proposed Oasis school was in trouble with its admissions. At the moment, we can only be speculate. The Oasis chain is struggling with the results in its academies, which are significantly below the national average. Perhaps their astronomical growth and high profile was becoming a source of internal concern?

Whatever happened, this sorry story speaks volumes about the craziness of the Free Schools programme. This school opened its admissions process, attempted to recruit a headteacher, announced it was on the verge of signing a deal for a site only to then announce that it was delaying and then its sponsors withdraw their application completely, supposedly because the DfE suddenly realised there was no need for it!

What does this mean for Waltham Forest? For the parents who put months of work into their Free School only for Oasis and the DfE to pull the plug, all this will of course be pretty devastating.

For OCOS it is very welcome. We always argued that this school was neither necessary nor desirable. Waltham Forest’s community-school led secondary expansion can now take place with one fewer Free School to worry about. According to the local authority’s projections, the borough does still need a new school by 2016/17 and their options for addressing this issue are tightly constrained by the ridiculous and spiteful legislation put in place by the Coalition government. We will have to monitor how the council propose to deal with this very closely.

In the meantime, OCOS will be doing two things. Firstly, we will be focusing our attention on Tauheedul’s planned Free School, still forging ahead at the time of writing. More on this soon. Secondly, we will also be campaigning positively for our local community schools. 

Our community schools are improving but they also need our help. They need OCOS supporters to help combat the myths and prejudices current in the community, to help promote their strengths and to get involved. There are many ways in which you can support your local community schools and we will be featuring more on this in the coming months.
We would appeal to everyone, including those local parents who worked so hard to try to get the Oasis Free School set up, to now get behind our community schools.

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