Stories + Views
What are the point of “free school” consultations?
The proposers of a “free school” in our town have just completed what they describe as a consultation into whether or not they should enter into a funding agreement with the Secretary of State for Education.
Yesterday the following was announced on Twitter and Facebook:
“Becket Keys is pleased to confirm that as a result of the consultation it is our intention to enter into a Funding Agreement with the Secretary of State. The full consultation report will be published next week.”
Would they ever have done anything else?
The truth is that the group behind this proposal, the “Russell Education Trust”, did as little as they could legally get away with during this process. They provided no consultation documentation specific to their proposal. They refused to hold any public meetings. They even refused to answer questions.
I am a member of a group called Educating Brentwood that was set up earlier this year, inspired in part by LSN, concerned with promoting accountability in our local schools. We challenged the free school proposers to provide a fully open consultation and, in the end, we set up an Open Meeting to allow the local community to air their views and ask questions ahead of the closure of the consultation period.
The “standing room only” response to the meeting proved that there was great interest in the future of education in Brentwood. Along with parents and residents we had a strong cross-party presence of local councillors. Four headteachers attended and there was an excellent representation of school governors. We were also delighted to receive a statement for the event from John Fairhurst, who had been a long serving local secondary head teacher until his retirement in 2010 at which point he became National President of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL).
Despite repeated invitations, no-one representing the “free school” proposers attended.
But why would they? Correspondence I have had with John Hudson of the DfE’s Free Schools Group
“As the duty is on the individual Academy Trust, it is for the Academy Trust to decide how it wishes to conduct the consultation, analyse the responses it receives and communicate the outcome to interested parties. ”
He goes on:
“One of the factors taken into account by the Secretary of State before entering into a funding agreement is the extent to which an Academy Trust has met its duty to consult. Often Academy Trusts submit a report to the Department on the consultation process and findings to assist the Department in coming to this decision, but the Department is not prescriptive on what such reports should include and how the consultation is carried out. ”
If these “consultations” really do mean anything then I would invite Mr Gove to visit our blog site to assess whether this “duty” has been met in this case.