Bolingbroke rages on - what is a fair consultation and who should decide how much choice parents get?

Laura Brown's picture
Much debate on BBC London radio tonight about Bolingbroke Academy's exclusive admissions policy.

You may recall from previous posts that Falconbrook primary has been excluded from the list of feeder schools despite being closer to the site than Wix primary school which is to be a feeder. Falconbrook has 62% of children receiving free school meals compared with 31% at Wix. At 17 mins on the tape, a Falconbrook parent is on saying she supported the campaign for a new school and wanted to be part of it. She campaigned for a lottery admissions system to give her children a better chance to get in because she knew that the very well off children would have priority due to the location of the site.

Later on, Jon de Maria is interviewed and he states again that Falconbrook is excluded because it already has Battersea Park School nearby - it is 1.3km away. He fails to mention that Wix children also have a school that is 1.2km away, Lambeth Academy. It is bizarre that the parents setting up the school, alongside ARK get to decide who gets more choice of schools and who has enough already!

This is the bigger issue we need to be aware of in terms of ensuring free schools nationally have fair admissions policies. ARK state that they consulted and received 159 responses with 118 agreeing with the admissions policy and (interestingly) many who opposed it being concerned that private primary schools were being excluded. Is this enough of a response to form a real view of the level of support? They also state that they "invited Falconbrook to meet them" which seems to suggest that they did not meet them. I assume they mean that they invited the Head of Falconbrook to meet them although that is not clear and, of course, we don't know why this meeting didn't take place but a lack such a meeting does not seem a reason to exclude all those parents/kids in itself.

1. What is an acceptable level of consultation? Should it be assumed that those who don't participate in such consultations are not interested in being part of the school and so can be excluded or is it possible that they weren't aware or didn't know the full picture?

2. What information should have to be provided underpinning a consultation - for example, comparisons of different admissions policies in terms of their impact on different primary schools and social groups?

3. Is it fair to expect people to do the analysis themselves to ensure things are fair, work that they might expect the council/provider to do - for example, when ARK published the feeder school policy, they didn't mention that Falconbrook is actually closer than Wix so how would people know without some significant digging?

These are all issues that I think will recur up and down the country as free schools pop up!
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Jon De Maria's picture
Wed, 19/01/2011 - 10:05

Laura - I am glad to see that you now support the need for our new school albeit have have concerns about the admissions policy. Here are our comments on the 'feeder school' policy we have adopted.

A number of comments have been made about the proposals for the Bolingbroke Academy many of which are misinformed. The following seeks to correct a few of the worst misunderstandings.

•More than 2,500 people have signed up to support the campaign for a new school in the former Bolingbroke Hospital. They are a very broad cross-section of the community and not dominated by any particular group. Those opposing the school have identified around 25 (of several 100 who objected to the NHS planning application to use the site for residential development) who work in the finance sector (including banks). They did not tot up the many teachers, doctors, health service workers, local government workers, legal, charity and voluntary sector workers, shop keepers and full time mothers who are as or more prevalent in the campaign. There is no employment group that dominates the neighbourhood or the campaign.

Why feeder schools?

•The inclusion of ‘feeder schools’ in the admissions process was designed to make the school more inclusive not less and widen the geographic and demographic group that could get places at the school. Using straight line distance to the school as the admissions criteria (which is used at other Wandsworth schools along with banding and the like) would (if the school is over subscribed) potentially exclude all but those in the streets around the school which, everyone acknowledges, is a middle-class area. Feeder schools extend both the geographic area that has access to the school and the demographic mix – given that two of the schools have free school meal entitlement well above the national and London average.
•Without the feeder school policy most if not all the pupils could come from Honeywell and Belleville, which are the schools closest to Bolingbroke and in the more middle-class area or, indeed, from private schools. Contrary to being a barrier to working class children the inclusion of Highview and Wix schools gives these children access to places.

Why these feeder schools?

•There are natural boundaries in every community. The 4 feeder schools are part of the south Battersea community, i.e. the area where secondary places are scarce, which the school was expected to serve. Belleville and Honeywell are 428 and 783 metres respectively from the school site while Highview is 879m. Falconbrook School (which is 1,642m by shortest walking route) is in north Battersea and already close to a good secondary school (Battersea Park, which is one of the most improved in London). Wix is closer to the Bolingbroke site than it is to Battersea Park school. Falconbrook is closer to Battersea Park school than to the Bolingbroke site - parents should support their local borough school.
• 41% of Highview pupils and 31% of pupils at Wix primary school are entitled to free school meals – well in excess of the national and the London average – suggesting a far broader income mix than some reporting implies. Many pupils come from the Peabody Estate and the Winstanley Estate, precisely the children that the feeder policy includes and who would lose out under a straight line distance policy.

Why not simply add Falconbrook?

•With the existing feeder schools there are already nine forms of entry eligible (Honeywell and Belleville being very large schools). Adding more schools simply raises unrealistic expectations and would lead to a very small number from each school gaining places, fragmenting the potential school community.

Who was consulted?

•There was a wide consultation on the admissions policy and all local primaries (including Falconbrook) were sent leaflets and letters and encouraged to respond. The parents group had meetings with a number of primary schools to discuss the policy and invited Falconbrook to meet them. The consultation closed on 31 December. Of the respondents, 75% agreed with policy and 25% opposed, although most of these did so on the basis that their children went to private schools and would not be in feeder primaries. (There are seven nearby private primary schools.) Arguably this suggests that the “rich bankers’ children” are likely to be those excluded by the policy, in favour of children in local state primaries. The NSC’s only objective is to achieve a local state secondary school for local children.
•There is a statutory admissions consultation conducted by all boroughs for 2012 admissions policies. When Wandsworth conducts this consultation there is a further opportunity for any school that feels it is disadvantaged by the policy to seek its review.
Were alternatives considered?
•It would be possible theoretically to have an alternative either to straight line distance or to feeder schools, namely to have two notional front doors to the school. In such a case you could have a certain proportion of the intake admitted on the basis of distance from the school site and the rest admitted on the basis of distance from another site (e.g. Clapham Junction station). This system was not adopted as is far more complex and harder to understand and communicate locally.
How will admissions be managed?
•The academy's admissions arrangements will be managed by Wandsworth Council and are subject to the same admissions legislation as other maintained schools. All schools require oversubscription criteria to determine how places will be allocated if there are more applications than places available. If there are fewer applications from feeder schools than places available all other places will be allocated by Wandsworth Council admissions department.
•The campaign for the new school was supported by all three political parties at the last general election, all of whom acknowledged the shortage of secondary places in the area and where birth rates are increasing at one of the fastest rates in the borough.

Laura Brown's picture
Wed, 19/01/2011 - 12:05

Whatever I may feel about whether a school is needed in this location, if the school is going ahead, it is fundamental that its admissions policies should be fair.

I do not understand why you do not add Falconbrook as they are closer than Wix. Your argument above is that "there are already nine forms of entry eligible (Honeywell and Belleville being very large schools). Adding more schools simply raises unrealistic expectations and would lead to a very small number from each school gaining places, fragmenting the potential school community".

So, you just really can't add 60 more from Falconbrook to the 270 who can already apply?

I have calculated the impact on places going to the affluent primary schools of Honeywell and Belleville assuming that all 270 kids put it as their first choice and you have 150 places to offer:

Excluding Falconbrook = 100 places for Honeywell and Belleville children

Including Falconbrook = 82 places for Honeywell and Belleville children.

So, Honeywell and Belleville still get 41 places each (with 45% of children in those primaries moving onto the same secondary). This hardly seems a "very small number from each school"! especially in London where typically primary school children will be dispersing to many different schools.

Is it too much to ask for 27 places to be reallocated to Falconbrook (with only 9 each from Honeywell and Belleville)?

Jon De Maria's picture
Wed, 19/01/2011 - 12:28

Congrats on your maths Laura, you clearly got a good 'E bacc' education. No wonder you are one of those 'fat cat' management consultants! Perhaps you'd like to use your math skills to point out to your mates at the Daily Comic that the avg income at Highview cannot be £60k when the FSM stats there are at 42%? As I say, v glad to see that you now support our school and your comments will be very welcome at the stat consultation on admissions. Of course, given your concerns about the feeder policy, we could consider swapping to a straight line intake as part of the stat consultation - how would you and your SWP union pals feel about that?

Laura Brown's picture
Wed, 19/01/2011 - 13:16

That's quite an onslaught, Jon. I am not saying that I support your school but I do think that it should have a fair admissions policy.

I think the whole bankers vs SWP/union militants is a media sideshow and a complete distraction from addressing the main issues, especially because people with all types of professions/politics support and oppose the free school plan. That's what sells papers I guess although I think the Observer did give you very balanced coverage.

I believe that the GMB analysis related to the income levels of those living nearby to the primary schools. Perhaps some of the more affluent parents living near to High View do not currently send there children there?

If we could stay on the debate, it would be great to hear your thoughts on my specific question about adding Falconbrook as a feeder and what qualifies as an appropriate consultation.

Jane Eades's picture
Wed, 19/01/2011 - 14:11

Jon: would you like to tell us how many of the 2500 supporters are resident in SW11 or SW12? When I looked at the planning application for flats, I noticed that at least one objector came from the USA! The vast majority of those I looked at either gave no address or had addresses outside the area.

I think that the weakness of your argument is that, rather than deal with issues, the pro Bolingbroke Academy group seem to have resorted to trying to damage the reputations of those who oppose it.

You say that, because Chestnut Grove was oversubscribed last year, this is proof that there is a need for a new school. However, that gives no analysis of where those applications come from. Given, that Chestnut Grove is rated as outstanding, clearly parents apply for places. However, also given that many of the students come from far afield, the implication is that local children would be able to get places.

Jon De Maria's picture
Wed, 19/01/2011 - 14:59

Jane - I have just looked at our database. We ask for post codes. I can promise you that every single post code is for 'SW' - whether 11, 12, 4, 8 etc. But this is the game you play, smoke and mirrors - you mention the 'USA' (which was not to do with our 2,500 but from the council planning website) and you then infer that that pattern may apply in a wider context. You did the same with surplus pupil numbers, where you said there '1,000s' of spare places. You state that figure knowing very well they are not Year 7 stats - the Yr 7 number exc the two VA schools is actually 195 for 2010 (81% of which are at one school). And on funding you also know very well that the revenue follows the child. On CG the fact is that there are 8 closer state primaries, so why do those local schools not wholly support their local secondary school? No one can tell me that. I could go on with the games you play - the AAA/SWP link that you deny is a good one, but I'll leave that for another day. So honestly - drop the 'holier than thou' propaganda. We are a group of 5 local parents currently being 'strong armed' by the unions - glad you think that is a media sideshow Laura. As for admissions - we wrote to Falconbrook but never heard back from them but are happy to meet them at any time and indeed of more importance the stat consultation on admissions has yet to start.

Laura Brown's picture
Wed, 19/01/2011 - 15:23

Sorry Jon, I can understand that it must be unpleasant that the media are questioning your motives and personal attacks achieve nothing on all sides. At least the stories have not really focused on any of you 5 personally and mainly gone after this 'bankers' angle which is more of a general statement about the affluence of the area, I suspect. I know one of the 25 bankers named through a close friend and he doesn't seem overly concerned by it, more bemused.

I don't think that those campaigning for the school are unpleasantly motivated in anyway. I don't want to 'strong arm' you. Surely it is OK to put the facts on the table about the admissions policy and question its fairness without being accused of 'strong armed' tactics?

It is good that there is a statutory consultation planned but maybe the best thing for your group, and the media/public perception, would be to proactively include Falconbrook? What's stopping you?

Andy Smithers's picture
Wed, 19/01/2011 - 15:26

Have Falconbrook's Governing Body and Head asked you to campaign on their behalf ? Have you spoken to them?
I am not clear why you want pupils and parents from Falconbrook to abandon their local state secondary school Battersea Park and attend a school further away.
The original response form JonDi Maria answers many of your questions yet you choose to ignore the logic that was followed. Is this a purely ideological quest for you ?
So why are you encouraging Falconbrook to ignore its local state school to go to an academy further away ?

Jon De Maria's picture
Wed, 19/01/2011 - 16:14

At least you know one more banker than I do. I have set out the case for the 4 feeder schools above. The next step is the stat consultation. Its very much a 'left wing' media/public perception and is not something that is widespread - for example, the unions leafleting outside Falconbrook this week and whipping up those parents for ideological ends. Our focus is on a new school in south Battersea for the local community. With the 4 feeders the FSM will be pretty much at both the London and Wandsworth FSM averages - which given the fact you love to go on about how affluent we are in Northcote that is no bad thing. In other words, a local comp. If we added Falconbrook, then next we would soon enough have the 6th feeder wanted, and then the 7th, and then the 8th. If you guys want to make the case for Falconbrook as the 4th or additional feeder then please do so.

Laura Brown's picture
Wed, 19/01/2011 - 17:07

I have not been asked by the Head or the Governors to campaign on their behalf.

However, I am aware of Falconbrook parents who are very concerned (as per the radio interview linked above) and so I thought I would (not unreasonably I hope) raise their concerns on this site. I do not want them to desert their local school but I don't think it is unreasonable to provide them with another choice too. As has been discussed at length, plenty of other people who will be able to access the Bolingbroke have local schools that they could attend so I'm not sure why Falconbrook pupils are the only ones undeserving of choice.

Also, by that logic, you are encouraging Wix pupils to avoid their existing local school. Lambeth Academy to attend one further away so again, I don't think that is a defence of the exclusion of Falconbrook.

I'd be interested to see what the Falconbrook union leaflets say. If they have provoked more interest than your original consultation perhaps that is because they actually give people the facts to understand what's happening. I'm guessing your consultation leaflets and letter to the Head didn't mention that one of your chosen feeder schools was further away from the Bolingbroke than them and that you took the decision that they don't need any more choice whereas kids at other schools do.

Who is responsible for laying out the facts about chosen schools, distances, other options? And without an assurance that this takes place, how can we trust these consultation processes?

Jon De Maria's picture
Wed, 19/01/2011 - 17:22

At what point Laura did you co-opt our campaign? I hadn't realised that you were now on our team running the campaign. But if you are now actually running our campaign, you may want to think about finding out about how the free school policy works? And thank you for pointing out once again that the union is the sole arbiter of facts.

Laura Brown's picture
Wed, 19/01/2011 - 17:45

I have no idea what you're talking about now. I get the distinct impression that you would rather I stopped questioning anything about your campaign.

I am a parent of 2 small children and you are setting up a school in my Borough, with £13m of our Council's money, around 2 miles from my house. I don't have to be part of your campaign team to have an opinion, do I? I am not a disinterested, random, faceless campaigner from some far-off location.

If everything is as fair and reasonable as you say it is, I can't see what is so troubling about discussing it and, even, challenging it. The facts are the facts - you clearly did not share them with the Falconbrook parents.

The more we discuss this, the more I am left feeling extremely uncomfortable that so much power is being given over to groups of individuals rather than elected bodies.

Jon De Maria's picture
Wed, 19/01/2011 - 18:02

I think you will find we are operating under the coalition government free school policy and are required to be compliant thereto. They are the elected body. I am not entirely sure who elected you? I have the distinct impression that you keep asking the same tired questions and ignore anything we say in reply.

Here is a post from Streetbook that has just gone up. In may ways it sums up the whole debate very well:

"What about all the other secondary schools' admissions policies? My child is excluded from Burntwood as he's a boy - unfair. My child is excluded from faith schools as we are athiest - unfair. My child is unlikely to get into CG on selection as he hasn't shown any aptitude for languages or arts - unfair. My child is unlikely to get into CG on distance as I live too far away - unfair. My child is unlikely to get into Graveney on selection as he's not likely to get 98% in the Wandsworth tests - unfair. He is also excluded from Graveney on distance as we live too far away - unfair. My child is unlikely to get into Ashcroft on selection as he hasn't shown any aptitude for science - unfair. My child is excluded from Ashcroft on distance as we live too far - unfair. I could go on. So am I being discriminated against because my son is average with no specific aptitude and we live in the area where there are no local secondary schools? Admissions policies have to exclude otherwise they wouldn't be able to prioritise students. There is no perfect admissions policy - that's why so many families stress every year about which school their children are going to go to. If all schools just did distance that might change things. Or if all schools did feeder policies. But whilst we've got this bizarre situation with all schools operating differently, there's going to be a problem. Don't target this school - do something positive and campaign for a change in admissions policies for the whole country. It's very easy to campaign against something - not so easy to campaign to actually make a change."

Whoever she is, she makes her point very well.

Laura Brown's picture
Wed, 19/01/2011 - 18:16

I'm not claiming to speak for everyone, just myself. I don't deny the issues with admissions policies generally and am very keen that selection ends in our Borough.

However, you (and your campaign colleagues/ARK) chose the feeder school approach; you chose the feeder schools. I'm sure you're not satisfied with resorting to 'well life's unfair, so are most admissions policies so we just have to accept it' type of logic.

The last remark that you copy above is interesting:

"It’s very easy to campaign against something – not so easy to campaign to actually make a change"

I totally agree. Which is why I am keen to campaign for:

1) The Council to carry out a proper assessment of where school places are needed in the Borough and what is the best way of providing these with admissions policies that are fair to all (preferably before spending money on a school that may not be the best way of achieving this but that ship may have sailed)

2) To change your admissions policy to include Falconbrook as a feeder.

Jon De Maria's picture
Wed, 19/01/2011 - 18:35

And that Laura is the whole point, you are correct, maybe we are getting somewhere at long last - we did choose the feeder school policy, we did choose the feeder schools. And do you know why? Because its our free school campaign that we started under the auspices of the elected government of the day. On admissions, the Streetbook post above makes the point very well: "admissions policies have to exclude otherwise they wouldn’t be able to prioritise students. There is no perfect admissions policy." Perhaps in the spirit of positive campaigning, if Falconbrook parents are unhappy with their local school, you should start a campaign to convert BPS to academy status?

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