Monday, 30 March 2015

Waltham Forest needs a new secondary school… but not this one.

Readers of the Waltham Forest Guardian will have seen the news that the borough is to have a new secondary school. Thanks to the Tory led Coalition’s legislation, it has to be a Free School. And thanks to the Department for Education it will be sponsored by the Lion Academy Trust, which already runs three primary academies in the borough.

Wrong school, wrong time, wrong place

There is no doubt that Waltham Forest needs a new secondary school. Figures produced by the local authority indicate that the bulge in primary places will work its way through to create a need for one new secondary school by September 2017 and another by 2019. But with funding following pupils, timing and positioning are important. It matters a lot to other schools in the borough where the new school is built and when it opens. If it opens too early and in the wrong place it will harm other schools. Yet the government’s insane legislation and its ideological fixation with Free Schools means that the Lion Academy Trust have been given preapproval to open a new school in September 2016. If it ever opens, it is likely to be built at taxpayer expense, wherever the Education Funding Agency can find some land it can buy.

And then there’s the question of the approved sponsor. The Lion Academy Trust currently run three primary schools in the borough, including Thomas Gamuel, which they took over in the face of massive local opposition. But they don’t run any secondary schools. We’ll be looking at the Lion Academy Trust in more detail in later posts, but for now, the summary is that this school is likely to be built at the wrong time, in the wrong place by the wrong people. Perhaps that’s why the indications are that this proposal is not being welcomed by the local authority, other headteachers or teaching unions.

Alternative plan?

But what’s the alternative? With an objective need for a new secondary school by September 2017 something needs to be done now. Interestingly, even the executive head of the Lion Academy Trust recognises that the election may upset his plans. It’s possible that a Labour led government will simply stop proposals that don’t fulfil its criteria of need and may start to relax the constraints on local authorities. But the Local Authority can’t sit back and hope. We hear talk of a possible alternative plan being worked out that combines further expansion of existing secondaries with a new school involving the Co-operative as a sponsor. This would be a Free School, because current legislation means it has to be, but as a Co-Op school it would at least have a democratic governance structure that could involve the community, the local authority and other schools. It would also have a better relationship with teaching unions. It would also enjoy the active support of Walthamstow’s MP who is already on record as actively supporting any proposals from the Co-Op.

It’s not an ideal solution and we believe that it would suffer from weaknesses relative to local authority community schools. Neither should anyone underestimate the difficulties that would be faced in bringing this plan to fruition. However, given the current range of options faced by the local authority and by the local community, we think that any such alternative plan would merit support over the DfE’s choice, the Lion Academy Trust.

More details as soon as we have them…  


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