New Secondary Schools for Richmond 4(1001 Posts)
Welcome. This is the fourth (or perhaps fifth) in a series of threads about Richmond Secondary Schools.
The discussion was originally triggered by Richmond council's publication of its Education White Paper in February 2011. It started with two parallel threads here and here.
In November 2011 the most active of the original two threads reached 1000 messages (the maximum allowed) so we continued the conversation here.
That thread filled up in May 2012, and was continued here.
It's now November 2012, and once again we're at the start of a new thread ....
This week's RTT has a letter Not a 'quick fix' solution to school place shortage p. 21 complaining about the refusal of Sacred Heart Catholic Primary School to give priority to the siblings of non-Catholics [admitted to a bulge class at the school in 2012] over Catholic children.
Thanks Chris. RISC have been covering that story on their Facebook page too.
Story here about a RET sponsored free school in Brighton and Hove which had been searching for a site. The DfE has identified an area of land used as sports fields by four local schools. The existing schools, local Conservative MP, Green-led council and local residents are unhappy. Neither the headteacher nor the sponsor were involved in the decision.
Thanks muminlondon - this is a shocking story and does seem to be a warning about the potential for the free school system to become completely undemocratic despite the "localism agenda". Very strange aspects eg. locating the school temporarily in the area where it is needed and then moving it to where it isn't needed a few miles away after 3 years, plus failure to even agree on the size of the site that is threatened - perhaps they are including the whole public park with the playing field that they are targeting when they say it is 22 acres in an attempt to make it sound less awful?
"this is a shocking story and does seem to be a warning about the potential for the free school system to become completely undemocratic despite the "localism agenda"
It's a controversial decision. However, the EFA will have worked closely with the council to identify that site, so the shock expressed by some councillors after the announcement may well be greenwashing. Hopefully it will all be resolved quickly.
"locating the school temporarily in the area where it is needed and then moving it to where it isn't needed a few miles away after 3 years"
The playing field site is actually much closer to their original preferred site, than the temporary site.
I am surprised if the Council in Brighton and Hove, which is Green Party led, prefers to build on a school playing field. Here's an article from the Brighton Argus which together with the comments, sheds some more light on the situation and raises lots of other issues, some of them familiar to us in Richmond eg. non-inclusive admissions:
It does imply that there are other sites that could be considered but would probably be more expensive as currently privately owned. I find it odd that the school itself is happy to stay on the site where it is opening but others want it to move.
"I am surprised if the Council in Brighton and Hove, which is Green Party led..."
Yes, exactly, it wouldn't make good headlines for them would it?
Thanks for the link to The Argus piece LP, I hadn't seen that one. I find this councillor comment interesting: "If they take private land they have to pay so they are looking at council land it is purely because it is the cheapest option.
Given that its public money being spent, and we're in the middle of a recession, that seems like a reasonable policy to me.
Kings is a CofE free school, with 50:50 faith admissions, so there are some people locally who are objecting to it on those grounds. However, the council aren't objecting to it; they need the places.
"Hove v Gove" might sound good, but I think its more a case of "Some people in Hove, v Gove".
It doesn't seem reasonable at all to me to build on a public park which is already serving as school playing fields in a built up area just to save some money. The idea of building on the King Alfred's leisure centre also seems quite bizarre. But some more information about why the existing site can't be used long term and the cost of the alternatives needed. No doubt there will be a massive campaign against this but the lack of transparency is frightening to me.
"It doesn't seem reasonable at all to me to build on a public park..."
I didn't say it was. I said it was reasonable to favour public sites over private ones. Using recreation space will always be controversial, so needs solid justification.
"The idea of building on the King Alfred's leisure centre also seems quite bizarre"
Do you know the area? I don't so its difficult to comment from a distance, though I have been following the progress of Kings. They were wanting to use the King Alfred site, but keep it open as a community sports facility. However I know there was some competition for the site from a private developer, and the article you linked to says "the site is earmarked by the council for a housing development with a new leisure centre".
"But some more information about why the existing site can't be used long term and the cost of the alternatives needed"
That's reasonable. I expect there'll be lots of people asking those questions.
Yes, I know the area fairly well as I lived there for a few years, although quite a long time ago, and I still visit quite often. The leisure centre is right on the sea front and is heavily used by the public - presumably it got a bit run down and there wasn't enough money to do it up so they have leased it to a private entity and are allowing some housing to be built on the site on what used to be the car park. I don't remember it having much outdoor space. I suppose they could have turned the ball room into a school and had PE on the beach but it seems an odd site!
It looks like the council has little choice in the matter - and also has to transfer the land without compensation:
It's controversial not just because the decision will directly affect the sports provision of neighbouring schools, but because this is a Church of England school which is 50% selective on faith grounds. It's fulfilling a desire not a need. Its admission policy seems little different from a VA school like Christ's, although the taxpayer has to pay the full 100% of its capital costs. Yet according to that article, the land is actually transferred to the trust, as opposed to being owned by the council and leased at a peppercorn rent like the deal with St RR:
'However the Education Act 2011 gave the Government the power to seize control of public land allocated for educational use. It can then transfer ownership to a trustee or governing body of an academy or free school, which is free from council control.'
I find the implications alarming. Is it likely that the DfE could also seize part of the grounds of an existing school and force them to house a free school? 'Sorry, Teddington School, you won't be having your sixth form after all because we're giving the land to GEMS for a primary'?
And it also seems to me that it would be as complicated to change a sponsor and/or religious organisation involved with a free school (I'm not entirely sure of the relationship between them in this case) where the trust actually owns the land, as taking a VA school back under council control.
"It's controversial not just because the decision will directly affect the sports provision of neighbouring schools, but because this is a Church of England school which is 50% selective on faith grounds. It's fulfilling a desire not a need."
From what I've read (but without looking at the numbers), Hove do have a needs-case, because there's a bulge coming through the system as there is here.
However, you're right that the project was also driven by the desire for some local parents for a CE school. As I've said before, the free school policy defines 'need' as "a combination of: parental demand, including demand for the specific school model proposed; basic need for places;or low existing standards in the area".
Setting aside the debate about whether the definition is a good one or not, my impression is that Kings ticked boxes with all three of those criteria, because some of the other local schools have not been rated highly by Ofsted in the past.
As we know, free schools are effectively the only way of creating new schools under the new Education Act (apart from VA). Hove reportedly does have a 'need' in the traditional sense of shortage of places, so I assume that's why the council are calmly accepting the new school, despite the fact that some of their incumbent politicians aren't fans of the policy itself. To deny that need, just because they didn't like the free school policy, wouldn't look good for their chances of re-election.
"Its admission policy seems little different from a VA school like Christ's"
Yes, its similar to Christs' current policy. However, as a VA school Christs could legally have up to 100% faith admissions. They just choose not to. In contrast Kings' admissions are capped at 50:50 because its a new Academy.
Kings are holding a consultation on their admissions policy at the moment, so it will be interesting to see if the local campaign has any influence on that.
"the land is actually transferred to the trust"
Yes, that's what it looks like, though I haven't checked the details. However, the trust does sign a funding agreement with the DfE, which presumably states that they can only use the land for the school; they can't decide to close the school and use the land for some other purpose.
"Is it likely that the DfE could also seize part of the grounds of an existing school"
I don't think that's likely.
"And it also seems to me that it would be as complicated to change a sponsor and/or religious organisation involved with a free school (I'm not entirely sure of the relationship between them in this case) where the trust actually owns the land, as taking a VA school back under council control."
No, I think that if the funding agreement is broken, then the assets would all transfer to the DfE. Again, I expect that is all in the funding agreement. I'll have a look when I get the chance.
p.s. Sorry Muminlondon, I forgot to respond to this point ...
"It looks like the council has little choice in the matter"
Yes, it looks like that, but that doesn't mean to say its true.
I'm not reassured on the land ownership point - it goes beyond any lease arrangement that schools have had in the past.
'that's why the council are calmly accepting the new school' - you could make a distinction between appointed officials trying to get on with their jobs without falling foul of regulations or central directives, and elected politicians.
The admissions consultation will have closed by now - admissions policies are meant to be published by 15 April of the previous year.
"The admissions consultation will have closed by now"
No, its open until the end of May, as it says on the form. This consultation is a statutory requirement prior to signing the Funding Agreement. The timetable in the Admissions Code doesn't apply until after the Funding Agreement is signed.
Sorry, didn't realise the funding agreement had not been signed. 'Distance' is measured between home and 'preferred site' (e.g the leisure centre) but it's difficult to know if that was an unrealistic aspiration in the first place and whether it restricts the location options.
Brighton and Hove council has been realistic about the lack of alternative options for providing places. I think this government's policy of dismantling LAs is crazy and, with regard to the unforeseen twin-track promotion of faith schools (not to mention backdoor privatisation) dishonest.
But an unpopular forced transfer of the site won't be helpful to the school either in terms of community relations. There's a petition which has already gained 3,200 signatures in 2 weeks.
"an unpopular forced transfer of the site won't be helpful to the school either in terms of community relations"
Yes, I agree, although I understand the school is well subscribed, and its continued popularity with local parents will be dependent on its performance rather than on the controversy over the site.
As I said before, hopefully the site issue will be resolved quickly. At least the temporary site is guaranteed for 3 years, so the school can leave the politicians, EFA officials, and others to battle it out while they get on with the important job of educating the kids.
Guardian Education has: Does the government really want innovation in free schools?:
Suspicions are growing that truly original ideas for schools that could help disaffected children are being rejected. Rachel Williams reports on bids that didn't make it.
Very interesting article Chris - thanks. There are lots of children who would benefit from innovative approaches - I could name you half a dozen round here! My friends in the US are sending their daughter who is very bright but bored stiff to a project based secondary school in September. However, it seems that by making free schools the only way to open a new school at a time when there is a growing shortage of places so the schools are desperately needed to provide standard places, they have made it extremely unlikely that innovative schools will be funded as such schools need to be additional to basic requirements and gradually build up a following.
Interesting article - if less than half of successful bids were from parent, community or charity groups then the majority were from religious groups and academy chains. But if they all offer the same mainstream curriculum but some are in areas of oversupply they will compete for pupils and qualified staff.
It's the opposite of what was promised and reflects the contradictory academies policy where successful converter academies were meant to be given freedoms in return for partnering weaker schools yet forced academisation is imposed by central government without a choice of sponsor. Free schools could be reserved for alternative provision where smaller schools would be beneficial and easy to site; the sponsored academies process would benefit from the requirement for the sponsor to be actively supported by parents; there should be a single and more rigorous process for approving religious schools; and LAs should be allowed to identify and meet basic need.
This is an example of a religious free school approval which should have been more rigorously checked.
Has anyone seen the Richmond schools survey. Conducted by the borough amongst their secondary schools so should be impartial. Schools get their results versus the average.
Hi Nelsonelson. RPA posted something about that to their Facebook page on May 28th. I haven't seen anything from any of the other schools.
Well RPA come out with a significantly lower incidence of negative behaviour than the average (bullying/name calling/hitting etc) so I guess that is not something that the other schools will want to draw attention to They do have excellent pastoral care but it is not widely known outside of the student/parent body.
To be fair, RPA is the only one I follow on Facebook, so the others may be shouting about their areas of relative success too. Hope not though. We should all celebrate when schools are doing well, in whatever area, but comparisons with other schools need to be handled sensitively.
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