Notes from the King’s School prospective parents evening that took place on 9th October 2012 at Aldrington School in Hove
These notes were sent to us by someone who describes herself as a “concerned parent”. She tells us that her notes are not exhaustive but, she hopes, provide a flavour of the meeting and the main themes.
Who was representing King’s School?
Six people were on the stage: Richard Elms and Karen Lynch from the Russell Education Trust (RET); the three parent proposers (Sue Worthing, Katherine Laux, and Lisa Taylor); and “a man from the council”. It later transpired that the “man from the council” was not from Brighton and Hove Council but from Crawley. Were King’s School trying to create the impression that Brighton and Hove Council actively support the school? If so this was misleading and dishonest. If not, who was he and why was he there?
How did they do?
Richard Elms is a forceful speaker who appeared less comfortable when fielding searching and direct questions.
The parent proposers looked like rabbits caught in the headlights.
How many people attended?
The meeting was attended by around 35 parents. Some left early, one or two arrived during the talk.
The presentation only covered information already contained in the school’s prospectus. The word “outstanding” was used frequently.
These were the five most interesting topics from the Q&A:
King’s reiterated the intake balance; how to apply; letters from churches etc. All this information is already in the public domain.
Karen Lynch recommended parents apply for King’s and also make any application for Local Authority schools. Local Authority applications must be received by 31st October 2012. Applications to King’s must be received by 30th November 2012 and these will be prioritised according to their published draft admission criteria. Parents will receive notification from King’s on the outcome of their application on 1st March 2013 at the same time as they hear about their council application.
Karen Lynch advised that parents should wait as long as they want before making a final decision. Her reasoning was that parents might want to see the King’s School buildings, or meet the staff. This is a clear example of how King’s School will disrupt the Local Authority’s application process and, assuming parents follow Karen Lynch’s advice, this will result in other parents, children and schools being uncertain about final places and numbers because parents considering King’s will delay their final decision.
2. Year seven guinea pigs
King’s were keen to reassure parents that they were up to the job and that they would overcome the lack of a site, a lack of older children etc. RET cited examples of other free schools they have opened. They particularly highlighted Becket Keys in Essex with talk of “happy students, in a happy, outstanding school”. There was far less made of the Bristol free school which has been mired in controversy (see Note 1 below) .
The school will be “sponsored” by RET. RET will provide services to the school. Although not the really important stuff like Educational Psychologists and Child Protection. King’s are funded by central Government and will give up to 11% of their funding to RET in return for these services. This has more in common with a private finance initiative (PFI) than what most people would understand by the term sponsorship.
Currently Brighton and Hove Council takes about the same level of payment from local state schools however the Council provides a much wider range of services. Richard Elms claimed that that the Council’s services were mixed in quality, to which the questioner replied that “at least they are accountable”. Richard Elms conceded that there was no accountability with RET. A questioner asked how long King’s were contractually obliged to work with RET and the answer was “indefinitely”. The questioner then asked if King’s could terminate the contract and the answer was “no”.
There was a lot of discussion on the school’s location including the following questions and answers about King Alfred (the school’s “preferred site”):
- Had the council agreed to let them have the King Alfred site? No
- Was the council likely to change their mind? No
- Does the Secretary of State have power to force the council to hand over the King Alfred site? Yes
- Is the government likely to do this? No
In a nutshell, it is highly unlikely that the school will get the King Alfred site. Despite having this knowledge, King’s are still using King Alfred as their notional base.
Have King’s known all along that they wouldn’t get the King Alfred site? Were they just using it because of its proximity to New Church Road and the more affluent families that live in this area? Whilst King’s School might still be located at King Alfred, or somewhere in this area, it seems they want to prioritise children from more affluent homes by using King Alfred to measure distance from home to school.
King’s stated that they are currently in negotiations for another site, along the New Church Road, that is “commercially sensitive”. Can they afford it? Will they get change of use planning permission? The only site that we know for sure is available, and that doesn’t require planning permission/change of use, is the Portslade site offered to them by Brighton and Hove Council.
There was a short discussion about accountability. Richard Elms acknowledged that there was no accountability with regard to RET, and that if the local community were unhappy about the school, there was little they could do about it.
Items that were not discussed:
The use of the word “inclusive” in the school’s literature:
How can the exclusion of around 60 children, because they do not profess to be Church of England, be “inclusive”?
How can using a location where the school is highly unlikely to be based, and that favours children from more affluent homes, be “inclusive”?
Lack of public consultation:
Why has the school not had any public meetings (aside from the two Prospective Parents’ Evenings in October 2012)?
Diocese of Chichester and associated safeguarding failures:
Why are King’s so pleased by their association with the Diocese of Chichester given their appalling record on child protection? How can King’s reassure parents who are concerned about this association?
(Note 1) Bristol Free School controversy (From Wikipedia (11 October 2012))
The Head of the North Bristol Head’s and Principal’s Association, Clare Bradford, declared that if funding was approved by the DfE then she would seek a judicial review and legal action. She put this in a letter to Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for Education. She has claimed that they have been established simply for middle class parents as more than one third of all free schools are opening in affluent areas. The Association have also supported her claims.
The Headmistress of nearby Henbury School, a local comprehensive school that has served the community since 1956, stated that “We already have around 145 surplus places and other secondary schools in the area also have places going, so this free school is just not necessary,” and “Next year we would normally expect to attract an intake of 150 or 160 pupils, but I think if the Bristol Free School opens we will struggle to get 120 pupils. The fewer pupils I have, the smaller the range of subjects I can teach, it is as simple as that.”
The Bristol Free School Trust received criticism from Bristol City Council Leader, Barbara Janke, after they declared that following changes to the admissions code, they would not be offering places to Oasis School Westbury Senior Phase pupils after they originally said that they would. This left many children without a school for September and it was a very late date in the year for this to happen. This was announced on the 20th May 2011.
The Leader of Bristol’s Labour Party in the council, Peter Hammond, said that the possible damage to other local existing school had to be taken into consideration and should be looked at.
The Free School Policy came under fire from Ed Balls, the former Secretary for Education. He claims it will create a “two-tier” education system with the best pupils and teachers being “creamed off” and “poached” for academies and free schools, while money would be siphoned off from existing schools to pay for them and children in struggling local authority comps would be yet further deprived. “I fear”, he said, “that it will turn out to be deeply, deeply unfair.”
The policy of free schools is copied from a similar Swedish style of Free Schools. However the Swedish National Agency for Education, has said, “choice in the school system has led to a tendency to segregate in terms of pupils’ sociocultural background, performance and ethnic background.” Others have criticised the policy of free schools due to the fact that they segregate pupils. There are religious free schools which are being set up and will be specifically for pupils of that religion.
The President of the National Union of Teachers, Nina Franklin said, “We are disgusted at Michael Gove’s lack of regard for education in Bristol and in particular for the local community schools, which will suffer because the Government has agreed to the wishes of a group of middle class parents who won’t accept that their children would be perfectly well served at Bristol community schools.”
The Burghill Road site, which DEFRA holds on a 39 year lease, had been earmarked by the Government Property Unit to rehouse on a single site over 1,000 civil servants based in nearly 60 buildings in Bristol, prospectively saving more than £6 million per year. The use of the site by the school will delay this rationalisation.