In 2008, due to surplus secondary school places in Brentwood, a decision was taken to close Sawyers Hall College. The plan was to integrate existing pupils into existing schools over a three year period and close the school in July 2012. To widespread support, including that of local MP Eric Pickles, it was decided that the site would be used to provide much needed vocational education options for the town's youngsters. Funding was agreed with the Learning Skills Council (LSC) and existing local schools were happy to link together to ensure it would be used in conjunction with the academic options that they provided.
In 2010 the Coalition government took power and the LSC was scrapped. Worse still the concept of the "free school" was born.
With the Sawyers Hall College site still to be vacated by the summer of 2012 new proposals were sought for the site. Two proposals that sought to provide the generally wished for vocational options were submitted to the DfE. At the eleventh hour, in March 2011, a further proposal was developed for a church "free school", offering a narrow academic curriculum and backed by the "Russell Education Trust", an offshoot of the private company, Education For London.
The following six months saw a theme develop through letters to the local press in support of this proposal which appalled me to such a degree that I had to get involved in opposition, and in support of the alternatives. The running theme was how poor exiting state provision was in comparison to what was being promised by those behind the "free school". It was without foundation as all existing provision is comfortably in the top half of national league tables and it betrayed the prejudices of a small minority of the local population.
In November 2011, the Secretary of State announced that "Becket Keys Free School" had passed the first hurdle to opening in September 2012. The vocational bids were rejected.
It is now my intention to work with interested parties within the town to ensure that this decision has as little harmful effect on existing provision as possible. In addition, it is critical that the "free school" is accountable to the local community and to that end they must consult widely and in a meaningful fashion to ensure that this is the case. I also understand that a proposal is being resubmitted to provide the vocational options that the town badly needs and that will have my support.
The key beliefs of the Local Schools Network should be the basis of educational provision throughout the country and Brentwood should be no exception.