Process for FS moving from 2011 to 2012

Tracy Hannigan's picture
I had been wondering about the 'middle way' - the process for proposers for 2011 who did not quite get there, but who switched to 2012 proposals. It had seemed from DfE correspondence that they didn't have to go through the new proposal process - and I have found this document that compares the old process they went through to the new requirements, and outlines what they have to do in order to 'top up' their application.

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Tracy Hannigan's picture
Sat, 30/04/2011 - 20:57

Key points for our issue with Rivendale:

The DfE said they had a deadline of 15 April for the business case, whereas this document implies Mid May. Is Rivendale then under the 'unless the DfE has explicitly said otherwise' clause?

Implies they will get further funding for second consultation.

Unclear (given DfE correspondence) if they will be interviewed during the same time frame as other 2012 proposals - ie, will they be in competition against other groups ?

'Strong evidence parents want your school ' - that rubbish speaks for itself.

A draft curriculum plan found online was pretty dismal and incomplete.

Implies they will have needed to identify a preferred site. We do not yet know what site that is, but have geomapped all of the potential locations which seem feasible (ie, large enough, or up for sale)

As to the financial plan - we presume they needed help with this, as they apparently have been using someone from Bridge Academy in Hackney.

If anyone else has a FS issue that falls into this category, let us all know! It seems there are a few groups in this category....


Tracy Hannigan's picture
Sat, 30/04/2011 - 21:51

FYI this is the verbatim paragraph from the DfE we got about the issue (hence the 'unless otherwise agreed' caveat)

The process now for groups like Rivendale who have had a Proposal accepted, and are looking to open in 2012 and beyond, is that Ministers will consider a Business Case and Plan provided it is submitted by 15 April. If that is considered strong enough it will be approved to progress towards a 2012 opening, subject to suitable and affordable premises being identified in the local area. .


Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 01/05/2011 - 08:29

A brochure (January 2011) for prospective heads of Rivendale said that a dedicated team from Partnerships for Schools has been working on Rivendale's premises requirements since 2010. PFS is responsible for delivering the new premises "on budget and on time".

The brochure says that the DfE has contracted Appleyards, an educational services consultancy, for support re finances, regulatory compliance and so on.

How large is the PFS team and how much does it cost? Are there similar dedicated teams attached to all the other proposed free schools? How much does the educational services consultancy support cost? Does the DfE contract similar consultancies to other proposed free schools? If so, how much does it all cost?

Shouldn't this money be spent on existing schools?

Rosemary Mann's picture
Sun, 01/05/2011 - 08:37

As a parent and governor of a state school I would like to know what if any, local authority responsibilities and involvement there is supposed to be in all of this. Are Councils obligated to assist with finding premises for such groups and providing other help, and if so does this mean providing help for all enquirers or just those who have had their applications approved? I am concerned that local authority resources might be taken up by this when they are already stretched and need to focus on other things! I have no idea of the answer or how to find that answer, so I thought I'd ask here!

Rosemary Mann's picture
Sun, 01/05/2011 - 08:41

With respect to the ad for the Headteacher position within the previous post, I don't think that a salary of £60-70k is a great deal even in these hard pressed times and especially as there is a lot of start up activity involved requiring a wide variety of skills. I am not in favour of extortionate salaries (just more respect in that area for the teaching profession!) but wonder if this is going to be enough to attract the right candidate and also whether it signifies a downward pressure on salaries in general in respect of free schools.?

Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 01/05/2011 - 08:43

I see from Rivendale's website that they are offering their services to other groups interested in setting up free schools. Rivendale's parent company is Rivendale Education Ltd. It is not a charity but a private limited company registered with Companies House. I note that the new rules for free schools require groups to incorporate. Is this a back door method of getting private companies involved in the state education sector?

Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 01/05/2011 - 08:46

Sorry, last sentence should have read, "Is this a back door method of getting profit-making companies involved in the state education sector?"

Allan Beavis's picture
Sun, 01/05/2011 - 13:24

Rosalyn - There have been many comments and views on this site questioning how a depleted education budget is able to stretch to both raising capital funding and running costs for free schools/academies and maintaining, never mind improving, existing LA maintained schools. Since free schools are very much the flagship policy of this muddled and misguided government and next to nothing has been uttered by the mandarins of the DfE, we have been wondering with much justification if maintained schools will suffer. Just as a two tier system of social segregation suits the wealthy to protect and promoted their interests,so it is specifically with education, where now private schools convert to free schools or academies, where private school teachers collaborate with Miss Snuffy and where tax payers money will be prioritised towards the education of a social or academic elite. This does not solve the problems of our education system. It makes them worse.

Allan Beavis's picture
Sun, 01/05/2011 - 13:53

I think you may well be right. The recent Adam Smith Institute recommended that, in order for the folly of the free school policy to now succeed (“folly” is my word, not James Croft’s, lest I am accused once more of misunderstanding his report) Gove had to open up school doors to for-profit making companies who might also raise capital funding too! Gove never had an ideological objection in the first place, so thanks to the rightwing thinktank, all final hurdles have been pushed aside and the taxpayer can be at least be placated that not all their tax money went to these elitist schools.

I wonder how placated the nation will be when the complaints against companies like Cognita mushroom beyond the private school examples of Southbank International School and Milborne Lodge and take root in the state sector? How might parents feel when the promise of education improvement across the board has only made a difference in a minority of schools? When their complaints are not heard by their LA or the Schools’s Adjudicator but by the profit making company running their school and, ultimately, Gove himself whose decision is compromised as he can hardly fail free schools? How will they feel about their Board of Governors who allowed these commercial enterprises into the education of their children and who set up the school with a “vision” but no understanding or experience of how the kitchens are run, who cleans the toilets, fixes the roof or liases with community police? By now, Cassandra would have pointed to the Trojan War casualties of the numerous cases of litigation in America, where both entire states and schools are suing these companies. But Gove does not listen. Not even to the prophetess of doom of his beloved Greek Antiquity.

Tracy Hannigan's picture
Sun, 01/05/2011 - 14:21

@Janet, James Woods has a desire to open several Rivendales - to create a 'chain'. He's said it on his site and has said it to me directly. Curiously he is the MD of Schools Plus. What's the 'motto' of Schools Plus? 'School's out - we're in!' Call me cynic....

@Roslyn, what we were told here is first that the Council had nothing to do with it, it was a DfE thing....then they said the Council has to write a report on the consultation...(which is backed up by what I have read in a policy FAQ on the role of the Local Authority....then they recently said at the Ed Select committe that they have an 'obligation to assist'. They were discussing the School Organisation Strategy, where one priority is 'to procure contracts for Free Schools'. I wrote a post on this.

As to other bits of the role the LA has, we also heard at the Select cmte meeting that they were in contact with several groups. Despite the agenda item being planning for pupil places, they were extremely reluctant to talk about the free schools issue at all and wouldn't say more about any proposal except when pressed they confirmed they were in contact with a group proposing a CofE secondary school for boys in Fulham. It is hard to know what precise role they are playing - though at one point I was told by Rivendale that they didn' t know how much the building they were after was going to cost becuase the Council was negotiating the price with the PCT. I'm not sure that is accurate, but at least here that is a very major worry - they are selling off Council propery as fast as they can.

Past minutes indicate that they have said that they are not able to sponsor projects per se but can help schools connect with parents, the community, promotion sounding type things. This is the same council which refused our ad that essentially did the same for all of the schools in the Borough. Now add 'procure contracts' (whatever that means). Sounds like a heavy and key role.

I FoIAed the Council to ask what FS groups they have worked with, when they worked with them, and in what way - and to provide a cost in person hours and pounds. Like many of our FoIA requests, they will probably not answer this one either.

Ben Taylor's picture
Mon, 02/05/2011 - 16:50

What is your fundamental problem with this Rivendale School? If parents want this school they should have it and if they don't also OK. As long as the costs are reasonable what's the problem?
I agree the process is not quite clear but it seems to be evolving, which leads to the clarifying question: is it just a public administration and accounting deficiency that is the fault here or is something more than that being objected to?

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 03/05/2011 - 07:49

The problems with Rivendale:

1 Costs - reasonable or unreasonable? Unclear - lack of transparency. How much has already been spent (including costs of the dedicated team at PfS)? Is it acceptable that any "public administration and accounting deficiency" for this project should take money away from other schools?

2 Parental demand - again, unclear. The school's website requests "Expressions of Interest". These are not the same as actual demand, as Mr Gove learnt when he said that schools had requested to become academies when they had only expressed interest (ie requested info). But will these requests be counted as "evidence of demand"?

3 Consultation - none at the moment because the school has no site:

4 Lack of site. How can a business plan be put forward when the school has no premises? How can parents be expected to make an informed choice if they don't know the location or the suitability of the premises?

Tracy Hannigan's picture
Tue, 03/05/2011 - 20:04

My quick view in no particular order (indeed random, as I have to get my son to bed)....

1) The original 'demand' was collected before the Academies Act was passed - 70 people from throughout H&F signed up to something like 'yes I'm interested in learning about a new school' (which is the kind of language that is now explicitly prohibited, according to NSN guides on collecting demand). This dropped to 35 by the time the Feb consultation came. By the time this consultation fell a few weeks later, and they were putting in for another site they had 22 people. I have met some of them, standing up at a meeting saying they were local parents, when they don't even live in the Borough. The DfE loved them - they were the 'strong support of local parents' we get in letters justifying pursuing Rivendale here. Some of them Rivendale admits having had to tell that they could not possibly get in because they were too far away – yet those numbers/letters were used to support the school into moving ito its current 'pre business case' phase.

2) General demand seems inadequate - another local free primary had to be downgraded to half its original size because of lack of demand.

3) This is happening in the supposed heart of the area of 'highest pressure for places'. The reality is that this is where there are many primaries which are not full even at reception due to heavy migration - a two form primary is expected to lose about 25% of its cohort (more than a complete classroom) within three years - solely to moving out of London or moving out of the country. Even a full school is never full for long. A FS would be subject to this same issue, and all of the schools would then suffer more (including the FS).

4) Lack of clarity/reality from the Council on the heavy support they are giving to Rivendale, apparently ( according to Rivendale) right down to trying to figure out how to fine parents who drive so as to not anger the parking/traffic sensibilities of the neighbours to any potential site (This has been tried by other schools, it doesn't work....) They send officers to meetings with stacks of paper to thwart our notion that there is not the 'need' - but they refuse to provide this data for open scrutiny even after publicly saying they will. Some of the same data cited is given to the nearby schools - and it doesn't match what is being said. I don't get that. We have put in several FoIA requests for exactly the data they are citing, but they have not responded.

5) Rivendale acknowledges the consultation was a mess. To their credit, I think they learned a lot and hoped to take that knowledge forward to do better next time. However, they were also appearing and saying they were going for another specific site, when we are pretty sure (certain) that site had already been turned down by the powers that be as too expensive. There are a few examples of this 'lack of clarity' which bother a lot of people.

6) The idea was for a community school, and this is a very diverse community both ethnically and socioeconomically. The two spots for the school were in more well off areas of Brook Green. Unfortunately, some of the supporting parents were not very subtle about why they wanted this specific school in that specific area. That in and of itself is not Rivendale’s fault but it is in part perhaps a byproduct of how they apparently recruited – private nurseries and seemingly a lot of non-locals (nobody on the street the location was at knew about it – and ironically, neither did anyone on the street where the Project Manager lives!) Unfortunately, Rivendale apparently held a (the only) parent open evening - in the middle of a highly Muslim area - in a pub.

7) I question the motives of the people involved in pushing Rivendale forward.

8) It bothers me that the Council doesn't want to answer questions about any of the FS initiatives (or even if there are any 'live' ones) -- from its own scrutiny committee -- in the meetings where pupil place planning is on the agenda -- why not? These are open meetings, if this is such a great idea and there is such need and demand etc, why can't it be discussed openly?

Kind of goes on and on..... but have to get my little boy to sleep now. I hope that helps.

Tracy Hannigan's picture
Tue, 03/05/2011 - 20:05

OK well not so quick after I see how it got published, and the sunglasses smile was supposed to be an 8 :-)

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