King’s School offered “much loved” playing fields

Click here to read the EFA Statement on sites for the King’s Free School which we heard about yesterday.

Click here to read an article in The Argus by Tim Ridgway.

The Education Funding Agency (EFA) have offered King’s School the playing fields located between Cardinal Newman Catholic School and BHASVIC on the Old Shoreham Road, Hove. There is legislation in place that allows the Government to identify and take any land previously used for education – and give it to a free school. Needless to say this can be achieved with no consultation and despite any objections the local council might have.

The Sixth Form Centre in Portslade Old Village is now being described as “a short term temporary site”. We would be interested to know why it is not suitable as a permanent site. Does anyone know? The EFA state the playing field would “meet the needs of the school and would be well located for the people it will serve, being much closer to its admissions point”. Seems to us that, rather than have the minor inconvenience of a relatively short walk, bicycle ride, bus journey or car journey, the EFA perceive it’s preferable to deprive the community of the playing fields.

Councillor Ruth Buckley, ward councillor for Goldsmid stated “This is another example of the government bypassing local authorities and grabbing land for their pet projects such as free schools and academies.”
Even the King’s School people describe the news as “surprising”. Surprising is an understatement. “Outrageous” probably more apt.

Social engineering at King’s School, Portslade

Here’s an amusing introduction to the proposed King’s School 2014 admissions policy.  It states:

This admissions policy reinforces the educational vision upon which King’s Church of England School is being established. The school will be inclusive, will meet the individual needs of all learners and will be based on the principles of the Church of England.

So the school, which has confirmed it will be based in Portslade, will be “inclusive” for those families who live adjacent to the school?  Well no actually.  There will be four times as many places available to families whose live in and around New Church Road in Hove than to families who live in Portslade.

Why would the school do this?  Could it be that they want to ensure more children from the affluent homes in Hove (two and a half miles from the school) get into the school, at the expense of families who live closer to the school in Portslade?  It would appear so.

For both those applying under the “faith criterion” and the “non-faith criterion”:

20% of places will be offered in order of distance from the home address of the applicant to the school, distance being measured in a straight line from the middle of the front door of the student’s accommodation to the centre of the main entrance of the school; priority being given to those who live closest to the school.

80% of places will be offered in order of distance from the home address of the applicant to the mid-point of the junction between New Church Road and Richardson Road; (the grid reference of this point being 527665:104983 ), distance being measured in a straight line from the middle of the front door of the student’s accommodation to the point detailed.  Priority will be given to those who live closest to the school.

Quite how a school that will actively discriminate against non-Christians for half of its places and then actively prioritise families from affluent Hove over families on its own doorstep can describe themselves as “inclusive” is beyond us.

What would Jesus say?

That grid reference, by the way, is the site of St Philip’s Church which the Diocese of Chichester proposed closing 10 years ago.

St Philips Church – two and a half miles from King’s School, Portslade

St Philips Church – two and a half miles from King’s School, Portslade

This probably also explains why the school have not renamed themselves King’s School, Portslade – which would be far more accurate than calling themselves King’s School, Hove.

The admissions policy is currently a proposal so there is the possibility that the proposal could be changed – needless to say that is more likely to happen if you object to this scandalous idea.  You can contact the school or send your thoughts to the Council which will pass them on to King’s School. Act fast though consultation must be completed by 1st March 2013 and the Governors must have settled the final version of their admission arrangements by 15 April 2013.

Here’s Brighton and Hove City Council’s proposed admission arrangements for Brighton & Hove community schools 2014/15

Is the King’s School admissions policy already finalised despite no public consultation?

People have suggested to us that King’s School’s intention to consult on their “draft” admissions policy will be the most fruitful avenue for us to pursue.  We perceive that the discriminatory admissions policy is unfair and not what’s best for the families of Hove.  We want King’s School to be fully inclusive.  A fully inclusive admissions policy would be a significant step forward.

Alas, all the signs to date suggest to us that the King’s School admission criteria are already finalised despite there having been no public consultation.

The King’s School website states that “once we have been given approval to proceed further with our proposal we will be consulting”.  This is very out of date. The school heard that it had been approved on 13th July 2012.  Months have elapsed, since mid-July, with no consultation on the school’s admissions policy.

Why do we believe that the King’s School admission criteria are already finalised despite any public consultation, and despite their stated intent to consult?

Despite not having consulted:

  • the school has published its admissions policy on its website (albeit described as a “draft”);
  • explained it at two parents evenings;
  • and invited parents to apply on the basis of the admissions policy.
  • When a parents applies for a place at the school the parent confirms he or she has “read and understood the Admissions Policy”.

Furthermore, and again despite any consultation to date, King’s School has set a deadline of midnight on 30th November 2012 for applications, with parents being notified by King’s about the outcome on 1st March 2013.

The school has also confirmed that it will not change the fifth criterion – distance from the school.  This is significant because the location being used by the school is highly unlikely to be the actual location of the school.  Indeed the school may well be some miles from the location being used.  This will probably result in children from poorer families being excluded.  You can read more about this issue here.

Yesterday we asked one of the parent proposers (who has been helpful in the past) to tell us when the consultation will start and what form it will take.  She has committed to come back to us soon.  We will update you when we hear back.

So what is consultation?

Legally anyone who undertakes consultation must let people know what they are proposing and why, give them a chance to comment, and conscientiously take into account their responses with an open mind before deciding whether or not to do what was proposed.

The basic rule is that, whether or not a public body was required to consult, if it does so, then it  must comply with the following overarching obligations:

  • Consultation must be at a time when proposals are at a formative stage.
  • The proposer must give sufficient reasons for its proposals to allow consultees to understand them and respond to them properly.
  • Consulters must give sufficient time for responses to be made and considered.
  • Responses must be conscientiously taken into account in finalising the decision.
  • All of those are aspects of an overriding requirement for ‘fairness’.
  • The process must be substantively fair and have the appearance of fairness.

The above definition is by David Wolfe, a lawyer and barrister.  Read David Wolfe’s complete article for more detail.

King’s School’s has already invited parents to apply despite having done none of the above.  Given the current situation these are the questions we think the school is obliged to answer:

  • How will the school meaningfully consult on their admissions policy in the six weeks before the application deadline?
  • To what extent are the King’s admissions criteria genuinely at a formative stage?
  • If the admissions criteria are genuinely formative, why are the school already publicly explaining them to parents?
  • If the admissions criteria are genuinely formative, why has the school already stated it will not change the distance criterion (despite the strong likelihood that it will be based at a different location)?
  • If the admissions criteria are genuinely formative, why has the school already invited parents to apply?
  • How will the school communicate its proposals?
  • When will the school communicate its proposals?
  • Will we finally have some public meetings?
  • How much time will the school allow to “conscientiously take into account” what respondents have told them?
  • How likely is it that the school will change its admissions policy?
  • How will the school communicate any changes to parents, given that the school has been inviting applications since September 2012, and set a deadline of 30th November 2012?

Karen Lynch, director of RET, recommends parents act in a selfish and unhelpful manner

How King’s School will disrupt the Local Authority application process for secondary schools – causing uncertainty and stress

Karen Lynch, director of Russell Education Trust (King’s School sponsors), recommends parents apply for King’s School and also make any application for Local Authority schools.

Karen Lynch also advises parents to wait as long as they want before making a final decision. Her reasoning is that parents might want to see the King’s School buildings and meet the staff (no sign of either with only 11 months until the school is due to open).

A clear example of how King’s School will disrupt the Local Authority’s application process and result in other parents, children and schools remaining uncertain about final places and numbers whilst parents considering King’s School hold places they might not use.

The King’s School prospective parents evening

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

The presentation only covered information already contained in the school’s prospectus.  The word “outstanding” was used frequently.

Q&A

These were the five most interesting topics from the Q&A:

1. Admissions

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) .

3. Sponsorship

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”.

4. Location

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.

5. Accountability

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?

Notes:

(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.

How King’s School will exclude poorer children

Portslade Sixth Form College: two and a half miles away from the King Alfred Leisure Centre

At last night’s King’s School prospective parent evening at Aldrington School, the King’s team admitted that the chances of getting their preferred site of King Alfred were “very low”. Despite this, the school will still use King Alfred as the location for their catchment area. Up to fifty percent of places at King’s School will be open to children from families of no faith or other faith. These will be offered in order of distance from the school. The school’s prospectus states:

“…if the school becomes oversubscribed, which is likely, half of the available places will be offered in order of distance from the school (in the first year, we will use our preferred site, the King Alfred, as our reference point for this) and the remaining half will be offered using a church reference.”

We think it is very cynical to use the more affluent King Alfred catchment, rather than their likely actual location. Brighton and Hove Council have offered the school Portslade Sixth Form Site – about two and a half miles from King Alfred. The families that live close to King Alfred are unquestionably more affluent than those who live in Portslade.

So how does this exclude poorer children? We know there are no shortage of parents prepared to feign a faith to get their children into what they perceive to be a better school. Typically these parents are from the so-called sharp-elbowed middle class. King’s School will also prioritise those from more affluent homes for their non-faith intake. Combine these two ways of prioritising the majority of their pupils and King’s School will effectively have a gated community of non-diverse, middle class children to teach. It’s a scandalous abuse of public funds – and completely at odds with the stated intent of Free Schools to help improve education in deprived areas.

We’ve noticed a question on the King’s School Facebook page from a Portslade-based parent querying the use of King Alfred as the point to measure distance. It’s five days old and still remains unanswered. Not surprising King’s School might not want to draw attention to this particular sleight of hand.

We should point out that King’s School may yet be located at King Alfred, and there is the possibility of their finding their own premises much closer to King Alfred than the Portslade Sixth Form Site, however for now it feels very cynical and self-serving.

No To King’s School, Hove – update – July 2012

In July 2012 Kings School gained approval from the Department For Education. Despite this news, our campaign is still very much alive and active.

The King’s School proposers still have many hurdles to cross before the school’s scheduled opening in September 2013. Many approved Free Schools cannot find suitable premises, or in the case of an East London school get cancelled weeks before opening due to lack of demand (how much money was wasted on that project?). So it’s far from a foregone conclusion that this school will ever open.

If King’s School school does get up and running, we know it will be a very unattractive option for many prospective parents. At least for the first few years. Without proper premises it will probably operate out of portacabins, or empty office space, and the school will not have the infrastructure and resources of more established schools – for example, sports facilities, music classes, laboratories, drama, etc. The first year’s intake (scheduled for September 2013) will be the only year in the school as the school plan to build up year by year. We believe that parents will think twice before allowing their children to be guinea pigs at a school with limited facilities and no track record.

If the school does open then Hove will get more secondary school places. By 2014 there will be a projected shortfall of 17 places and this will steadily increase for the next few years. So a new secondary school in Hove is perhaps better than no school at all. That said, we feel deeply saddened that the parent proposers have to put their time and energy into something that we all pay for through our taxes; that third parties (Russell Education Trust in the case of King’s School) will soon be profiteering out of education provision and taking much needed funds out of the system; and that the idea of universal school provision is being dismantled by this Government, and replaced by a a new form of social engineering – one that withholds resources to gain compliance. The Free School policy allocates resources in a very piecemeal and discriminatory way, and to people who are not necessarily educational experts.

Free schools have a patchy track record in other countries and there’s very little evidence that things will be any different in the UK. Meanwhile successive generations get sold short as politicians try new ideological driven “solutions” rather than provide sufficient funds to educational experts and other stakeholders to strive for educational excellence for all. The Government argues that a market-driven approach, whereby funding is allocated to better performing schools, will drive up standards across all local schools. As we’ve seen with train companies, and our utilities, the reality is that these companies just make an easy profit – and money that could be reinvested goes to shareholders. Education needs real investment across the board to ensure that all our children can fulfil their potential. A market approach is completely inappropriate for a public service like education. The Free School programme is a depressing trend to short change the overall provision of education – which is the key to future prosperity for us all – and undermine Local Authorities.

Although Kings has got the go ahead, we believe there’s also a very important role around consciousness-raising: rationally and clearly making the case against both free schools and faith schools. There are many people who don’t think beyond the “Surely a new school is good news for the City” argument. That’s another area where we will make a difference – helping people to understand why Michael Gove’s policy is misguided and ultimately unhelpful for our city and the needs of the broader community.

So what do we want? In a nutshell, well-funded, state-run education that benefits all, allows all our kids to fulfil their potential, and does not teach religion as fact.

Here’s how you can continue to help the campaign:

If you’re on Facebook then please get involved in the debate, and offer ideas and encouragement, on our campaign against the King’s School Hove here:
http://www.facebook.com/StopKingsSchool

If you’re on Twitter then please get involved in the debate, and offer ideas and encouragement, on our campaign against the King’s School Hove here:
https://twitter.com/StopKingsSchool

If you have any contact with the school or its supporters then please be polite, reasonable, rational, and factual. It does our campaign no favours to alienate, insult or annoy the school’s supporters. We want to help them to appreciate the bigger picture. We have to build bridges with them. We have to influence them to understand and sympathise with our position.

Please spread the word and help our community to realise why it’s a bad deal for our kids, for the taxpayer and for our City.

Please talk about this school with your friends and neighbours. Word-of-mouth is very powerful. We plan to increase arguments against the school during September and October when parents with children in Year 6 will be reviewing secondary schools and discussing their options. Your help is vital in getting people to think about all aspects of this school when considering their choices.

Please also let us know about your ideas – or if you come across any information that might further our campaign.

Thanks for your support
Kings School No Thanks