Brent Council are denying parents the choice they deserve

by Calvin Robinson on November 22, 2015.

Originally published on ConservativeTeachers.com

With the demand for good secondary school places in Brent ever increasing, and a sufficient number of Free Schools failing to open in the area, is it a case of the Labour-lead Brent Council dangerously hampering the borough? I decided to conduct some research into the issue by using the Freedom of Information Act to request details of meetings by the Brent Council Teacher’s Panel.

Below are the minutes from the last meeting of the Teachers’ Joint Consultative Committee (7 July 2015); specifically these are items raised by the ‘Teachers’ Panel’:

The council’s attitude and possible actions regarding new academies and free
schools

The Teachers’ Panel referred to the Kilburn Grange School due to be opened in 2015
and asked to receive information on the number of places that would be allocated for
Brent students. They also heard that Gateway School was not proceeding and that
while Gladstone School had submitted plans to the DFE and the council’s planning
department, there was discussion of the number of forms of entry. The earliest it would
open would be September 2016 possibly on a temporary site.
The Teachers’ Panel highlighted the action being taken around the country against the
government policies on Free Schools and Academies and that parents were becoming
increasingly aware that the justification for the introduction of the policies was not
related to increasing parental choice. They called on the council to do the minimum
required to comply with legislation but to join teachers’ unions in pointing out the
shortcomings of the policy and make parents aware of the council’s position. The Chair
asked it to be recorded that discussion on this was taking place within the Labour
Group.

As you can see, Brent Council’s Teacher’s Panel has “called on the council to do the minimum required to comply with legislation but to join teachers’ unions in pointing out the shortcomings of the policy and make parents aware of the council’s position”. Surely the council’s position should be to increase the number of good school places available to children in the borough? Brent has such a high demand for good school places, it’s irresponsible of the Labour-run Brent Council to oppose the idea of Free Schools simply to oppose a Conservative government’s policy. The issue is too important for them to be playing party politics.

If we look back to the Michaela Community School situation, it’s a well known but little reported fact that Brent Council made the process as difficult as possible for them. Even after the application to open a Free School in Brent was accepted by the Department for Education, Brent Council placed roadblocks in the paths of Michaela’s board of trustees at every turn, to the point that it was questioned whether the school would actually be able to open. When a bid was placed on the old Brent Town Hall, for example, it was rejected in place of an offer from the French Lycée International School. While the Lycée may be a brilliant project, it won’t offer the secondary school places that are needed in Brent, and the deal on the table happened to be significantly less than what DfE/Michaela were offering. On the one hand Brent Council are claiming budget cuts as one of the main reasons for the majority of their bad decisions as of late, while on the other hand they’re biting their nose off to spite their face by accepting an offer for a French curriculum primary school offering much less value than that of an English curriculum secondary school in an area where demand for good school places outweighs supply.

Michaela Free School: allocation of pupil places for September 2015

The Teachers’ Panel made enquiries of the number of places at Michaela School in Wembley Park and heard that there had been 321 applications for 120 places of 4FE.

In the end, Michaela went for a private property deal and as a result were the first Free School to successfully open in Brent, and are doing a fantastic job of educating hundreds of Brent children, with demand at nearly 3 times the current intake. But many Free School projects have failed to get off the ground in Brent and it’s becoming obvious why.

It has been speculated for a while now that Labour councils are getting in the way of a good secondary education. But with Free School applicants not be able to speak publicly about the issue, for obvious reasons, there hasn’t been much evidence to focus on until now. This Brent Council Teacher’s Panel report was obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request – it may well be that more councils are operating under similar pretences.

Have you witnessed similar opposition to Free Schools in your own borough? Get in touch if you’d like to share your experiences.

Education
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