Too many single sex, faith and selective schools mean no choice in Barnet.

Avis Johns's picture
The middle of the night terror. There's no secondary for my daughter! Can I move, tutor or magic a solution? But its a waking nightmare too.
Here in East Finchley, Barnet's decision to provide a 'choice' means that my 10 year old cannot go to a local school. But she could if she were a) male, b) Catholic or c) admitted to the selective.
So no choice then.
But far from being an isolated case, parents in Southern Barnet wanting community schooling are coming out of their personal hell and joining together.
Nearly 500 of us now. We've got our MP on side, a great number of councillors and we've got Barnet to set up an urgent scrutiny panel to investigate and resolve the issue. Of course, we've got a long way to go and its easy to see why councillors who sent their children to public school can seem out of touch with the agony playing out across so many households. But is it too much to ask to have a local, co-ed, non-denom school? Free school? No space, and anyway, we have sufficient schools locally, they just need to change to meet community need.
And as I said to the scrutiny panel recently, we're not 'just parents' our correct title is 'voters'!
For more info on how we can get a community school for N2, NW11, N3 and N12 contact us here.
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Fiona Millar's picture
Fri, 30/09/2011 - 17:18

the government's obsession with free schools and academies has diverted attention away from the pressing issue of admissions to existing schools. In many communities these are a real barrier to parents exercising choice. Rather than getting rid of the local admissions forums, we should be campaigning to give them more powers to investigate and suggest how local admissions criteria could be framed to benefit , rather than shut out, local parents.

Mike Page's picture
Fri, 30/09/2011 - 19:49

I'm afraid that Avis somewhat misrepresents the situation, and not for the first time either. Parents in NW11, and parts of the other postcodes too, have the opportunity to send their Whitefield School. Whitefield is co-ed, nonfaith, and improving rapidly under an excellent Head and senior leadership team. It achieved 96% A-C GCSEs this year (not inc. Eng & Maths) up from 50% three years ago. It's Value Added puts it comfortably in the top 1% of schools in the country. Its intake is currently lacking children from the more affluent areas of NW London - if their parents chose to support the school, Whitefield would be even better than it is. Over 60 places are available. As just such parents, we have decided to send our daughter to Whitefield and are working to encourage others from our area to do so. Being half way through Melissa Benn's book, and as a follower of LSN on Twitter, I would have thought that Whitefield School was exactly the sort of school that LSN would get behind. I'm very disappointed, therefore, to read on the LSN website a piece that fails even to mention Whitefield as an option, referring instead to "terror", "hell" and "nightmare". We're backing a local successful community school that could have a genuinely comprehensive intake if parents acted accordingly. I look forward to hearing that LSN is supportive too.

Avis Johns's picture
Fri, 30/09/2011 - 22:39

I am disappointed that yet again Mike Page choses to ignore that whilst Whitefield might be a local choice for him and other parents living near to Brent Cross, it is far from being a local community school for those of us living in East Finchley.
Whitefield does indeed have a local catchment and it is expected to reach capacity with the redevelopment of the area as is planned.
It is unwise to ever suggest that just one option will present a total solution. Good school provision in Barnet requires a range of responses. Encouraging parents to support local schools is just one way, but we also need schools that currently exclude - by virtue of sex, faith or other selection, to start addressing the needs of the local catchment.
I am delighted that Mike feels so pleased to be living near to a school he is happy to choose for his daughter, sadly, there are hundreds more of us who don't live in such a convenient position.
As a self-selected ambassador for a solution it would be unwise to address others in a manner that is so off-putting that one detracts from one's stated aim.

Helen Drake's picture
Sat, 01/10/2011 - 00:28

Both Mike and Avis are correct in what they say. Whitefield School has improved dramatically in the last few years due to LA intervention. With poor results and reputation, despite getting an Outstanding grade from Ofsted in 2008, the school formed a Trust with a highly-popular and successful school and has now an impressive leadership team led by an effective and welcoming Headteacher. Due to a focus on improving the quality of teaching, results have risen and this should be applauded. Our primary governors' group, of which Mike is a valuable member, is delighted with the efforts the school is making to promote itself and become a school of choice, but we have no doubt its popularity will increase and that it will rapidly become another school that cannot be accessed from East Finchley.

With Barnet's own figures showing a projected 22% increase in demand for secondary places in the next three years, Whitefield is not going to provide the solution for all the families living in this area who want a non-faith, co-educational, non-selective school, particularly as most of the successful schools of this type in this area have tiny catchment areas. Even if parents want a selective school for their children they are highly unlikely to get a place as approximately 70% of the places go to children outside of Barnet.The reason local governors got together to campaign on this matter in the first place was because we could see catchments getting smaller and smaller with the result that children, particularly girls, were being squeezed out of local schools and being given school places miles from their homes, away from their friends. This year the first-round catchment for Fortismere School was .42, the tightest it has ever been. Catchments for The Compton and The Wren are also extremely tight and with Friern Barnet just getting an Outstanding Ofsted we also expect that catchment to shrink. Hendon is also popular but with a banded intake it is hit and miss whether children in the Garden Suburb area will get places. The effects of the recession are also being felt as parents are taking their children out of private sector and moving into the catchments of the best schools, exacerbating the problem.

There is no doubt that secondary transfer is a fearful and stressful time for both parents and children and the feeling of anger in the N2/N3/N12.NW11 area should not be underestimated. It is completely unfair that some children, by virtue of having richer parents, or being of the right religion or gender, can walk to a local school, and others, particularly girls, have no local options at all. Avis's Local Schools for Local Children campaign (contact has been highly-successful in galvanising local parents to take a community approach and getting politicians and the LA to wake up to the looming problem ahead. Even now we have non-Catholic girls being educated at home. This is totally unacceptable.

Parents have told us (through surveys and written statements) time and time again what their preferred solutions would be: Christ's College Finchley, currently a boys-only school except for the 6th form, to expand and take in girls to become a co-educational school, and/or Bishop Douglass School, a Catholic School located right in the middle of Finchley, to give up its Catholic status and become an improved community school. If either of these options were to happen we would have schools that were filled with local children from the immediate catchment areas and all the benefits of parental involvement and community ownership that would bring. Instead, those schools have a majority of children from outside of the area, travelling in. If we support high-quality comprehensive education then we need to ensure we provide the kind of schools that parents want their children to attend, and that children themselves are happy to attend because they will have friends with them. You cannot force children for ideological reasons to attend schools they do not wish to go to.

Mike Page's picture
Sat, 01/10/2011 - 07:09

Avis, if you read my comment, you'll see that I refer to "NW11 and parts of the other postcodes too". I do not say that everyone in your campaign will be in a position to choose Whitefield, but it is simply false to say, as you do, that there is "no choice" for parents in the postcodes to which you refer ("Southern Barnet"). You repeatedly claim to support Whitefield, but have curiously failed to mention it in at least three public fora now. One such forum took place not 1.7 miles from Whitefield School and contained parents who would have benefitted from knowledge of a potential solution to their needs - this gave the impression that you were less interested in practical, principled solutions than in inflating your campaign. Rhetorical questions such as "Is it too much to ask to have a local, co-ed, nondenominational school?" would be more powerful if it were not for the fact that, for a portion of the population that you are addressing, the answer is "Apparently not", there being one such school with an abundance of places available. Increasingly shrill references to "terror", "waking nightmare", and "personal hell" will only serve to make a proportion of your target parents more stressed and worried than they need be - surely not your aim? - while blinding them to a potential solution to their "agony". Neither will this unbalanced strategy help you in your deliberations with Barnet councillors: they will be much less likely to take the sort of action you want while Whitefield has places available.

You could take a principled stand and encourage parents from the west of your campaign area to get behind a school that is doing very good things, but that would be greatly enhanced by their support. It would solve their immediate problem, and simultaneously assist your campaign by throwing your needs into sharper relief.

I'm sorry if you find even this small measure of dissent from your views "off-putting". My views were arrived at after over three years of looking into this issue. I'm happy that we are acting in a manner that is principled and properly supportive of good, local, truly comprehensive (socially-inclusive, mixed-ability) schools. I'm relieved that neither we nor our daughter experience "night terror" or "waking nightmare" as the result of the decision we have made.

Avis Johns's picture
Sat, 01/10/2011 - 08:33

Mike. On every occasion I have encountered you and by listening to other parents and some officials, I have heard complaint at your manner. I see nothing in your writing to counter these views.

Mike Page's picture
Sat, 01/10/2011 - 09:48

And that is, in sporting parlance, playing the man rather than the ball. I'm not the least bit interested in a popularity contest (good job too, you will say). Just an accurate and principled discussion about education in our area.

Alison Gold's picture
Sat, 01/10/2011 - 15:13

The issue we face in East Finchley is similar to that faced across the country.

Successive governments' policies of offering "choice" of school to parents by opening up religious and selective schools has done little for the quality of schools (no evidence of any positive result in fact) and merely resulted in black holes where the nearest non-denominational and co-educational schools are a long way away. This is the case in London N2 now. For my children, when we slipped out of the catchment for our local comprehensive school, the other comprehensives Whitefields (mentioned above) and Friern Barnet are both nearly 1 hour away according to the TfL website.

The growth of academies (already common in Barnet) and of free schools does not offer much hope of addressing this situation and as more schools gain autonomy over their admissions, the gaps in provision across localities are going to become more and more common. The borough's role in co-ordinating provision is becoming more and not less important, particularly with population growth and migration patterns changing so fast.

Please somebody in the current government, realise what is going on here and find a way to address it before all 11 year olds are spending 2 hours a day on a bus!

JimC's picture
Sat, 01/10/2011 - 17:05

Isn't the obvious solution to your lack of choice to set up a free school?

Alison Gold's picture
Sat, 01/10/2011 - 17:41

Well, none of us are qualified in that area, so we just can't. Should it really be necessary to 'do it yourself'?

Helen Drake's picture
Sat, 01/10/2011 - 17:56

The idea of a Free School was mooted but we didn't feel that was the right solution for this area. We have two perfectly good existing school sites and we felt it a more pragmatic way forward to persuade one or both of those two schools to adapt to meet the needs of the local community.

Allan Beavis's picture
Sat, 01/10/2011 - 18:44

I am surprised that there still prevails the idea that a group of parents can just "set up a free school" as if the process required were only slightly more demanding, in terms of skill, time and following a booklet, than assembling a flat pack desk from IKEA. In fact, the process is even more difficult than it was when applications were first invited by the government, who have now introduced formalities which are more easily met by Edu Chains, who have the specialist knoweldge, infrastructure and time to assemble a free school.

Free Schools do not add choice and their tiny number educating a tiny number of children are not doing anything significant to provide more school places. It is heartening that Helen Drake and Alison Gold here are providing evidence that, contrary to the government's claims, parents and communities are not rising up and clamouring for more Free Schools. What parents actually want is a good local school. It seems to me that the government ought to take a more sensible and cost effective approach by improving and expanding existing schools and provision rather than scaremongering, threatening to close schools down and perpertrating the myth that Academies and Free Schools are invariably good and all schools ought to be them and comprehensives and local community are schools are bad and wallowing in left wing ideology.

I'm afraid the scope for Free Schools and Academies to covertly pre-select is wide open for abuse, so there is real danger that in a situation as we have here in Barnet where many schools are closed to children because of selection, these new schools will only add to the problem. At least grammars and faith schools are honest about how and why they select. Free Schools with a religious bias, or a narrow curriculum appealing only to a certain type of child, or with a leader too concerned with publicising his poiltical affiliations or jeering at people who have different views, can hardly be seen as genuinely inclusive or advocating fair or open admissions.

Helen Drake's picture
Sat, 01/10/2011 - 18:23

It would also mean that any investment money would be going into improving existing school buildings rather than being spent on a new school.

Melinda's picture
Sat, 01/10/2011 - 18:34

The problem for East Finchley residents (being one of them) is that Whitefields, in my view, is too far if you live in N2 and there is no building or land available for a Free School. As a result we are forced to look at the secondary schools around us for a solution. The problem is that 3 of them are either selective, single sex (boys) or faith and the 4th has a catchment of less than half a mile. The schools are there, it's just the admissions criteria that are the problem. If you have a girl in N2, there is no choice. Do you think it's right that my child sits on a bus for 2 hours everyday to go to school when there are 4 secondary schools within a mile from my house?

Michael Moxham's picture
Sat, 01/10/2011 - 21:39

hi all. have tried to read most of the comments. but some are too complicated for my simple yet creative and fertile head. School transfer is a nightmare. The amount of open days, possibility of test preparation for selection and the whole lack of care and detail is totally crazy.

Why? Because the local needs for local kids are not met. I have one daughter and at the last scrutiny panel I was present and made her case. It was the first time I have ever got involved in a lobby of any nature. So it took quite a lot for me to stand up, well take a seat infact, and say my piece. Am not a statician and it seems to me that education has become a battle of percentages, and economics. The bottom line is that N2 is ill served.

The other day I took Molly to a music test at Fortismere. From her house to the North Wing it took approximately 12 minutes. Alas, as we know, she is not in the catchment.
Sadly she did not get past the first stage. It was her first ever test, she is the youngest in the year. She does not deserve to be put through this. Oh and she has not faith. I do not mind if she goes to a mono sex school. If there were a good non faith one. I also do not mind if she goes to a co-ed non faith school, if there were one.

The other choices that interest us are: Compton, (not in the catchment) Friern Barnet (not in the catchment, but had performance test) Mill Hill County (not in the catchment and totally off the radar, but have music places) Henrietta Barnett ( selective) Camden (not in the catchment, but have music places). Thats its folks. Help.

As for Whitefields: from the little I know, it would seem, they have a similar task to Friern Barnet. To turn around a school with a shady past. But as with Mill Hill County, Latymer, it is simply too far away. I also heard a rumour that only 30% of the kids have English as a first language. I would not feel comfortable with this. That is my rite. I am not dismissing Whitefields, but for the kids of N2, and the distance, it is not am option anymore than Bishop Douglas, albeit for very different reasons.

Thanks to the lobby, and the sheer force of passion displayed by Avis, Sarah, Helen and a host of others, I would say give them credibility. I suggest to Michael that any grievances you have with Avis and her campain are ironed out over a pint. To have a stand up arguement infront of the scrutiny panel is really not a good idea. It was an amazing acheivement, careful you do not undermine it. I would also like to ask Michael to just support this whole thing and get past these problems with how he thinks Whitefields is perceived. It can not get personal. If you do not agree with the campaign, well thats fine. But please keep it hidden. We need all the help we can get right now. Dissent is ok, if there is a genuine reason for dissent. I felt that night, you wanted to simply undermine Avis and the rest of us. I ask you nicely to keep it at bay. It is people like the Avis', Sarahs and Helen Drakes of this world that make a difference and give us hope. I think it unfair to show up and just challenge a good cause for the sake of it.

Eti Wade's picture
Sun, 02/10/2011 - 08:11

We now send our son to a school that is 6 miles away, he takes two buses in each direction, leaves the house at 7am and comes back home at 5pm every day. We consider ourselves lucky, being Jewish he got into JCoSS. Our preference was to send him to Fortismere. We live 0.5 mile from the school but are out of the catchment area. I still don't understand how this is possible whilst children from as far as Islington and Crouch End with no siblings seem to be getting in... (maybe we should ask the local estate agents?)

JimC's picture
Sun, 02/10/2011 - 08:40

"Free Schools do not add choice and their tiny number educating a tiny number of children are not doing anything significant to provide more school places."

This is an absurd statement. Are you seriously suggesting that setting up a free school does not add any choice for anyone at all?

"What parents actually want is a good local school."

Quite and I don't see any reason why a free school cannot be set up with these ideals in mind.

"It seems to me that the government ought to take a more sensible and cost effective approach by improving and expanding existing schools and provision rather than scaremongering, threatening to close schools down and perpertrating the myth that Academies and Free Schools are invariably good and all schools ought to be them and comprehensives and local community are schools are bad and wallowing in left wing ideology."

I agree that the governments portrayal of comprehensives is poor but it is no worse than some of the propaganda published on this website.

JimC's picture
Sun, 02/10/2011 - 08:53

Usually people who have a 'cause' actually do try and do something about it themselves. Expecting everyone else to solve your problems is, amongst other things, known as 'moaning on the internet'.

Cathy's picture
Sun, 02/10/2011 - 10:47

Hear hear, Michael Moxham. In the end we all want the same thing: a good local school for our children. It's great for people in the surrounding area that Whitefields is becoming such a school; the children of East Finchley deserve one too. The more we work together, the greater our chances of achieving our shared aim.

Helen Drake's picture
Sun, 02/10/2011 - 12:10

In response to a comment above, and as I mentioned earlier, we did think about setting up a Free School but soon realised that this was not a way forward for very practical reasons rather than ideological ones. But I do personally have great sympathy for some of the groups setting up Free Schools, which are a symptom of a local community's dissatisfaction with the school choices on offer to them. I can imagine the frustration that must have driven the parents in those groups to feel that setting up a Free School was their only course of action. I don't see any conflict between being a supporter of state comprehensive education and being critical of the performance, curriculum or admissions criteria of particular schools. The problem we have described in East Finchley has existed for a long time and is an historical legacy. The demographics of our area have changed and the schools have failed so far to adapt to this change. It's just up until now no one has tried to do anything about it.To give Barnet Council some credit, they have listened to us and accepted that there is a problem, and our politicians of all colours have put party political differences aside to help us find a solution. This is admirable and a good model for other areas. We need to look at the reasons why people have felt the need to set up Free Schools and have an open dialogue with them, not berate them from an ideological standpoint.

Mike Page's picture
Sun, 02/10/2011 - 12:24

Good points, Michael, but a couple of (I hope good-natured) responses:

1. I think Avis has run an excellent campaign and that her energy has truly moved this forward. My ONLY complaint is that the campaign has not properly acknowledged Whitefield School as PART of the solution. As I say above, parents in the west of the campaign area have an option, viz. to get together and send their kids to Whitefield, as we are doing. Even East Finchley station is only 3.6 miles by road from Whitefield and can be reached in 10-20 minutes (depending on traffic) driving directly. Serious question: If Whitefield organized a direct bus from East Finchley, there and back every day, would that help you? Or how about a privately commissioned minibus? (Many students going to e.g. JFS, JCoSS, Mill Hill, have a much longer journey.) I agree it might not be your first choice, but I don't think that that is the same as your having no options whatsoever.

2. With respect, the scrutiny panel was not established just to hear the views of your campaign group. It was a chance for local councillors to hear the views of Barnet parents. I am one such parent, and therefore see no reason to keep my views hidden, either now or then. I think that your suggestion that I should keep quiet (in a democratic forum) if I disagree (and then only somewhat) with other contributors, is not something with which you would, on reflection, persist. At least I hope not.

3. I have nothing but admiration for Helen Drake, Sara Gibbins and others who have been tirelessly pursuing this issue for over two years now. I have been working with them throughout this time and for a year previous to that. My first letter to Barnet on this subject was over three and a half years ago, and I collected the first data in April 2008, acting as a model for later data collection exercises in other schools. It was on the basis of this work that we (the group of Governors) came to appreciate better the changing situation at Whitefield. (It has changed even more, and for the better, since.) All I ask is that that element of the work that we have done now not be disregarded.

4. With regard to Whitefield and its recent past, I'm not sure you would count their 2008 Ofsted "Outstanding" as "shady". SINCE THEN, under the leadership of the Head, Martin Lavelle, and his team, results have risen dramatically. You have no need to rely on rumours, as facts are available and the Head will meet you and organize a tour at any time. I don't know whether your statistic about English as a first language is correct but I'm sure we can find out. It would make their 96% GCSE A-C (50% inc E&M) even more remarkable, if true. Of course, even that statistic would change over night if a significant number of parents from the west of your campaign area were to send their kids there. Results would likely improve even more.

4. One of the reasons that, say, Fortismere catchment is shrinking is that people are moving into the Fortismere catchment area from places to the west of your campaign area. This would not happen, and would not need to happen, if such parents could get together and mutually support Whitefield. It is in your campaign's interests to promote this nonfaith, nonselective, co-ed community school as PART of the solution to the problems in the South of the Borough.

In sum, some of the parents in the campaign group could benefit from a closer look at Whitefield School as part of the solution. With enough common purpose, its dramatic recent improvement could be further sustained. For current Yr 6, even from East Finchley, it is a plausible option, particularly if the transport could be sorted. In other respects, I fully support Avis and her campaign.

Julie Turner's picture
Sun, 02/10/2011 - 13:11

Avis has indeed run an excellent campaign and so many of us are grateful for the work she, Sarah, Helen and others have done. I have only ever heard Avis say positive things about Whitefields, publicly and privately, and she has arranged meetings with and visits to Whitefields so the idea that Avis has deliberately discouraged parents from making this their school of choice seems absurd to me. Also the idea that Avis would prefer to beef up her campaign rather than help people find practical solutions is unfair. I know that Avis spends many hours of her own time answering individuals pleas for help even when they are outside the remit of her campaign (e.g. people have asked for her help with finding primary schools). Please can we all keep up the healthy debate and work together to find solutions without attacking one another’s motivations. Each family has their own journey, their own scruples (or not) and their own opportunities (or not) to finesse the system. I don’t have night terrors but I do stay awake turning over the possibilities of renting a second house, rediscovering my long lost religion, giving up things to afford private education, accepting that my daughter will have to spend 2 hours a day on a bus and/or tutoring my daughter obsessively and I am probably one of the lucky ones as I do have all of these choices however unpalatable they seem. I am delighted that Whitefields and Friern Barnet have improved so much and would welcome and support the idea of arranging direct school buses to these schools from N2 but I remember when Alexandra Park School (APS) was considered a no no for discerning parents (only a few years ago) but now it has improved you have to live on the doorstep to get in and with all the stats stated above we can only assume the same will happen to these schools so they do not form the solution to the big picture problem here.

Fiona Millar's picture
Sun, 02/10/2011 - 14:32

Have you had discussions with the local diocesan boards about this issue. If so what has their response been? Are the faith schools taking pupils from further away that the area in which your supporters live?

Helen Drake's picture
Sun, 02/10/2011 - 15:32

As parents and governors we have not had discussions, but we understand that tentative dialogue is taking place and we appreciate that talks of this nature will be very sensitive. The faith school in question is not at capacity and of those pupils that attend, a very large percentage (I understand it to be approximately 70%) come from out of the area.

In terms of the boys-only school, primary governors, on behalf of our parents, approached the governors of that school in October 2010 and requested that they consider meeting the needs of the community and changing to a co-educational status. At this point the request was turned down. Since then the school has become an Academy and both the Local Schools group (led by Avis Johns) and the primary school governor group have been invited by the Headteacher to meet and have further conversations. We view this as a positive step forward.

Fiona Millar's picture
Sun, 02/10/2011 - 15:12

There is a very important point here about the most pragmatic and cost effective way to deal with parents needs in these situation. We can't possibly judge whether the free school model is the best one since no one will say how much they cost, although there are rough estimates of £15 million floating around for some of those now opened, when you include cost of the land and building. The parents in Barnet seem to have found a relatively low cost way of dealing with their needs, which is to open up existing local schools to their children. Their experience also highlights why we need community wide solutions involving all schools, rather than letting some schools operate in isolation.

JimC's picture
Sun, 02/10/2011 - 15:56

Well said.

Lucy Butterworth's picture
Sun, 02/10/2011 - 17:17

It is very telling that for parents whose children attend the Catholic primary school in N2, the Catholic secondary school in N2 that is five minutes walk away is not in most cases the school they choose to send their children to. This means that the Catholic secondary school in N2 is not generally serving the Catholic population in N2. And, it is located in the area of East Finchley where girls in particular have no other local school to go to. A free school would be a very long term solution, we need something sooner than that.

Mike Page's picture
Sun, 02/10/2011 - 17:34

Re. my comment above: Would people in N2/East Finchley appreciate opening a discussion about bespoke transport to Whitefield School (particularly given lack of options for current Yr 6). If so, you should definitely approach the Head to discuss. Let me know if I can help. [E. Finchley tube, 3.5 miles, c. 15 minutes by direct road when Henley's Corner sorted out]

Sarah Cohen's picture
Sun, 02/10/2011 - 19:32

Personal attacks such as those above are unacceptable. Avis has worked tirelessly and selflessly on this campaign putting the interests of the community first. She has the clear support of parents in East Finchley, N2 and wider. In all the meetings that I have attended with Avis all options were discussed and it is widely acknowledged that there is no one single solution. I would like to point out that for me local means being able to walk to school. I travelled by tube from this area everyday for 7 years and all my friends lived far away. I would like my children to go to a school where they can be part of the local community and have friends that live locally. In all the discussions it is has been highlighted that the involvement of parents is important for the development of schools. It would clearly be more difficult to participate in the life of a school when it is more than 20 minutes on public transport from one's home.

Helen Drake's picture
Sun, 02/10/2011 - 20:08

Whilst Whitefield may not turn out to be the solution in the future for the East Finchley area, for our current Year 6 children applying to secondary school, with limited options available, Whitefield could well be the answer, particularly for those families who live in the west of the borough. I think Mike's idea of a minibus is a good one and may make the school more of a viable option for some parents. I think we should put the earlier comments behind us now and move forward.

Avis Johns's picture
Sun, 02/10/2011 - 21:30

And we are delighted that Alison has committed so much time and energy to resolving the issue - especially via her support of the 'local schools for local children' campaign. Along with the 500 others that have got behind the cause, she is demonstrating what it takes to get things changed!

Michael Moxham's picture
Mon, 03/10/2011 - 06:40

To Michael. All I am saying is this: Whitefields or not, it does not help the campaign, if it is undermined publicly, which is almost what happened. I am under the impression that the Scrutiny Panel only came together because of the lobby. maybe am wrong. so the precious time we had with them, was very limited. the focus of the evening was a solution to the fact that N2 is short of schools. that the needs of your area are met. so any comment, or inference that seems to go against this, undermines the whole aim and renders it vulnerable. I think things between you and Avis have got personal. which is really not going to help your promotion of Whitfields or the campain, especially when bought into the public arena. if there was a truly democratic choice, we would not need the campaign in the first place.i do not see why Molly should undertake a journey, which from Herford rd would take more than 20mins to Whitefield, when Fortismere is down the road. I also heard some very stange rumblings regarding the open day at Whitefields.
It basically put me off totally. To send my child to a school, just to help their statistics is not justifiable criteria to choose somewhere she is going to spend the next 7 years.

Sometimes emotions get heated. Maybe this results in misfiring through words. God knows I should know, am a stage director. But the bottom line is, there is a strong case here. It should not be unermined.

Michael Moxham's picture
Mon, 03/10/2011 - 06:41

oops bad grammer: if there were truly a democratic...' clearly my poor catholic education at st.aloysious college. hahahahahaha

Michael Moxham's picture
Mon, 03/10/2011 - 06:46

one thought for the day: my mum is an strong die heard Neapoitan. A city whose populace thrive on the art of politic. She always advocates this: you want results, then from within the system, not against it. She came here after the war, built a good life and worked hard. Seems to have worked for her. The one thing she feels she failed in was my choice of school. Simply because she did not know enough. Times have changed; we do know stuff. So lets use what we know to oru advantage and not get lost in too muc statisitcs or bickering.

Allan Beavis's picture
Mon, 03/10/2011 - 09:13

I agree that the provision of good local school places is in short supply in some areas and it is clear from the discussions on this post that there is a problem in Barnet, particularly if, as, Avis said, single sex, faith and selective schools have pre-selected a large number of children and closed options for many in the local area.

Having read Melissa Benn's excellent book "School Wars", which includes a chapter on the history of state education from its inception in 1944, it is clear that the system has always been fragmented, with different governments adding or subtracting to the basic ideology of free state education for all children, and it is this absence of a total commitment to realising a model of equal and consistently well funded school provision for each and every child regardless of background or ability that has left us with the incomplete system that we have today. Add to this the historical influence of the church and the grammar school system on state education, as well as the powerful part played by private schools in further downgrading the efficacity of state schools, and you end up with a patchwork quilt of a system with some areas with many good schools, others with fewer and questionable admissions criteria. It is easy to blame certain LAs for failing schools or failing to provide adequate provision but the reasons are often complex and at the heart of the problems are the failures of central government over decades to properly support and expand, rather than abandon or contract, comprehensive school education.

I don't think Free Schools as a policy is going to solve this problem. I think it is going to make it worse because, once again, another government in power has failed to tackle the underlying issues which I think the problem in Barnet highlights. Free Schools will not offer more choice around the country for three reasons. One - their number is too insignificant to make an impact nationally and two, if they have converted from being a private school or have a religious ethos, then that in itself already excludes many children.

Three - I don't think anyone is berating parents for wanting to set up a Free School because we are all sympathetic to the fact that all parents want a good local school for their child. However, there is the understandable temptation that this group would wish to set up a Free School to service their own, immediate and self regarding needs perhaps at a cost - and further detriment - to their local and neighbouring communities. For example, a Free School's curriculum designed to appeal to it's leaders and most articulate supporters many be too narrow for other people in the community also in need of a good school but inhibited with making themselves heard or pushing for a place on the steering committee.

They are complicated to set up and require a great deal of effort, time and money. So just how empowering is this in the Big Society? Helen is right to say that we need to look at the reasons why people need to set up Free Schools but we also need to ask why people are reaching for the Free School option when it is beyond the comprehension or time management capabilities of most parents. The government has introduced a largely empty choice in Free Schools.

The real question, as always, is still to ask why governments and LAs are unable to provide adequate state education accessible to all, not some, in their local communities. Arguments about whether locally inspired Free Schools are the answer are a major distraction away from the catastrophic dismantling of state education currently being undertaken by the coalition. What we should all be asking is why the government is not ending selection, expanding existing school facilities and resources to benefit both the gifted and the SENs, encouraging a broad and inclusive academic and citizenship curriculum, ensuring admissions are fair and that appeals are dealt with quickly and locally and why they are embarking on a costly experiment, in a time of recession, that has been less than successful in Sweden and the United States.

Michael Moxham's picture
Mon, 03/10/2011 - 19:17

a new thought: maybe we need a march. we live in a society where a kids success at getting into a school is based on how well she or he sings, or can hear pitch..etc i think you know where am going with this. or can work out pretty little shapes...hahahah and codes.

its ridiculous. its not just about local schools. the whole admissions process has to also be reviewed.

Helen Drake's picture
Tue, 04/10/2011 - 09:32

In response to the above, the group you haven't mentioned are school governors who have enormous responsibility and power to move a school forward. If every school governing body was forced to publish its school development plan/improvement plan/strategic plan, then parents and other stakeholders would quickly be able to identify weak leadership and be in a position to hold schools to account. The decision to change the admissions at one of our local comprehensives, which now means a certain number of places are selected via a music test, was made by the governing body of that school, and not by government or the LA.

Although the number of selected school places in Barnet (including the number of single-sex schools) is a huge barrier to choice, the quality, until fairly recently, of some of the alternative schools was not high enough and therefore these schools were not popular with parents. For many of these schools, the intake has not changed but the quality of the leadership has, leading to a genuine improvement in standards which has led to a greater popularity with parents. The crucial figure in any school, the person who leads school improvement, is the Head, and the people who recruit the Head are the governors, not government or the LA.

Cath Bourne's picture
Tue, 04/10/2011 - 23:21

Just a point on Whitefield School's GCSE results. From the Headteacher's comment on the school's website:
A staggering 96% of students attained 5 GCSE passes overall and we equalled last years 5A*-C passes including English and Mathematics of 50%. 100% of our students attained 5A*-G GCSE passes.
In other words 96% of students passed 5 GCSEs with grades A*-G (not C). Or put another way 1 in 2 of the students fails to pass GCSE English and Maths at C level or above. B is the minimum for most A-level courses. Good work is clearly being done at Whitefield but the 96% stat quoted by Mike Paige is not quite right.

Allan Beavis's picture
Wed, 05/10/2011 - 11:16

Great, inspirational leadership is key to a good school, as is accountability and transparency, especially to the local community the school serves. It is going to be more difficult for people to hold the new academies and Free Schools to account because they are not overseen by local authorities who won't have the power to intervene when there are disputes on, say, admissions criteria.

All schools - whether comprehensive, academy or free schools - face the same challenges in securing outstanding headteachers and school management teams as well as motivated and properly functioning governing bodies. This suggests that the mere status of a school - Free School or Academy for example - is not a guarantee that it will deliver better results.

Susan's picture
Sat, 28/01/2012 - 15:15

Surely with all the secondary schools in Barnet (and there are plenty non-demon) open the catchment area( which are already as said before, if not on their doorstep forget it), We need to make positive changes in the GREAT schools already running in the borough of Barnet. Barnet has a huge financial deficit, We need to work with what we have in place, and make the most out of its potential.

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