Despite a surplus of secondary places and a need for vocational options, a "free school" is being forced upon our town.

Stephen Mayo's picture
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.
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Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 08/02/2012 - 10:26

The problems caused to existing schools when a free school is given permission to open when there is no need have been highlighted before. The headteacher of the established secondary school featured in the link below told the TES*, "It is astonishing, the power that a tiny group of parents have. If there is a school and you set up a free school next to it, it will kill it...[The school] will have to be slimmed down, leading to redundancies and class sizes going up."

Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), made the distinction between a free school where there was a need for more places and demand by a vocal group of parents for extra provision when this was not needed. He told TES*, "If there is no shortage of places in an area where a free school is set up, parents may be acting in the best interests of their own children, but actually undermining the education of other children. It's a very selfish attitude."

*"The rise of parent power", 27 January 2012, TES, not available on line)

Guest's picture
Thu, 09/02/2012 - 09:12

Janet, you imply that the TES article was wholly against 'parental power' and therefore because you quote such a reputable journal that morally your opinion must be correct. The article was not against 'parent power'. As I recall it put both sides of the debate. For example, it said that in instances where committed parents were involved in local education the pupils did better. And if that leads to existing local schools having to raise their game then so much the better. Who is to say Mr Mayo's opinion counts any more than the parents supporting the new Free School in his community? If a local demand can be proven for the new school then that too should be considered. I think many parents in this country are simply fed up with the choices on offer to them. The news that the much derided WLFS is now 9 times oversubscribed for every pupil place on offer is an example of why parent power matters - and works. Which is why Free Schools and Gove's wider sector reforms are important. Enough is enough of this 'soft bigotry' of low expectations that you pander to. After all, motivated parents committed to improving their local state education provision - isn't that what this site is all about?

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 09/02/2012 - 10:16

Guest, you are correct. The TES article was a balanced presentation of both sides of the parental power argument and if it had been published on line I would have provided a link as I always do when such articles are available.

I quoted two voices from the article which is not the same as citing "a reputable journal". I am sorry if you thought I was implying that the TES had formed a conclusion. I had thought it was obvious to readers that I was quoting two individuals. The TES was just the medium - it was not the message. I'm sorry if you confused the two.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 09/02/2012 - 10:25

The free schools and academies programme is promoted as one that will increase "user choice" and thereby increase standards. OECD* looked at the evidence linking school choice with educational outcomes and found it was inconclusive. As OECD pointed out, some high-performing countries do not offer user choice. And OECD* warned that the free schools/academies programme may impact negatively on already disadvantaged pupils.

The Harvard research cited by Mr Gove in his speech at Haberdashers’ Aske’s made this point about school choice (Mr Gove obviously missed it):

“Market-based reforms such as school choice or school vouchers have, at best, a modest impact on student achievement (Rouse 1998, Ladd 2002, Krueger and Zhu 2004, Cullen, Jacob, Levitt 2005, 2006, Hastings, Kane, and Staiger 2006, Wolf et al. 2010, Belfield and Levin 2002, Hsieh and Urquiola 2006, Card, Dooley, and Payne 2010, Winters forthcoming). This suggests that competition alone is unlikely to significantly increase the efficiency of the public school system.”

“Reforming the English Education System” in OECD Economic Survey UK 2011 (not available freely on line. Details about how to obtain a copy are here:,3746,en_2649_34569_47283558_1_1_1_1,00...

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 09/02/2012 - 13:03

In my post above I mentioned the difficulties caused to an existing secondary school by a proposed free school. Below is an update of the situation which I have also posted beneath the comments on the original thread (link in first post above).

In his November 2011 Newsletter , Jeremy Lowe, headteacher at Sir John Leman wrote: “I am very aware of the anxiety which the proposed free school has caused our community. I am very confident that we will be using the Beccles Middle School building from September 2012. … From meeting parents in all our partner primary schools, I have been gratified by their faith in our ability to do a good job, and in the incredibly low number of people who have said they might apply if a free school does ever get off the ground somewhere.”

The proposed free school has said in its consultation document that it does not now intend to use the Beccles Middle School building until September 2014 when it would be vacated by Sir John Leman High School. It hopes to use the current Carlton Colville Primary School site which will become empty in February 2012.

The site problem may have been settled but the free school, if allowed to go ahead, would cause overprovision of secondary places in the area with the result that both schools would be too small to offer the range of courses currently offered at Sir John Leman.

Stephen Mayo's picture
Thu, 09/02/2012 - 13:36

Guest, you are correct to say that my opinion should not count more than those supporting the free school proposal. The reality is it counts less. My point centres on "demand" versus need. The proposers only have to demonstrate that they have the support of a group that accounts for a small percentage of the community. The remainder of the population then have to provide organised opposition that greatly outnumbers the proposers despite the fact that they are most likely to be impacted by the establishment of a new school in an area of surplus places. Thus the odds are stacked in favour of the proposers under current DfE practice.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 09/02/2012 - 16:10

Stephen - the admissions criteria for the proposed Becket Keys CofE secondary free school lists four primary schools as feeder primaries. Three of them are CofE: St Thomas Canterbury, St Peter's and Bentley St Paul's. The fourth, non-denominational, is Larchwood. Each school is allocated a number of places according to the size of the school.

The DfE website shows that there are more primary schools within a three mile radius of the school which are not named on the admission criteria including St Mary's CofE, Hogarth Primary School and Holly Trees. Can you suggest a reason why Becket Keys should omit these schools? Is it trying to manipulate its intake?

Guest's picture
Thu, 09/02/2012 - 18:26

I disagree. It is very much about choice over availability (even allowing for the 'money follows the pupil' rule). A simple analogy might be if you have 100 people queing up in a canteen for a choice of two dishes (lets say 50% curry and 50% pizza) and lets say all the pizza gets taken, why should those at the back fo the queue then have to settle for curry when they prefer pizza? It is simply not equitable to use the 'surplus place' rule - a degree of choice is necessary unless you want to end up with a statist socialist model where Big Brother knows best. Gove is actually driving choice and diversity into the system with the Free School policy. Which is a good thing.

Stephen Mayo's picture
Fri, 10/02/2012 - 11:33

Janet, my understanding is that the intended catchment area was narrowed to the North of Brentwood in order to progress through the first approval stage. This has angered St Mary's parents in particular as many gave their support to the bid which was used to prove demand.

I also understand that the British Humanist Society have raised an official complaint to the DfE on the basis that this flouts the statutory 50% cap on church places.

You may also be interested to know that Becket Keys have announced this week that their "founding headteacher" will be one of the Primary heads who fronted the bid. Aside from the obvious questions that this raises, it would be interesting to know how much of the criteria in the TES advert for this position this teacher met and what the views would be of those who applied for the position on that basis.

A link to the front page story in the local paper is below:

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Sat, 11/02/2012 - 20:03

"Why should those at the back fo the queue then have to settle for curry when they prefer pizza"
Because if you're using a simplistic 'free market system' it costs twice as much to ensure everyone has fair choice.
Of course you could always use something called 'organisation'. You could ask students to order ahead so you cook precisely what is needed. Or you could organise people to take turns so each gets what they want most of the time and it is fair. And so it is in education. If you plan things they can be transparently fair and efficient. If you do not they become extremely expensive and transparency and accountability are lost.

"Gove is actually driving choice and diversity into the system with the Free School policy. Which is a good thing."
Were Gove actually interested in driving choice and diversity in education this is the kind of strategy he would be following Guest:
Unfortunately he's just an arrogant man who's been taken in by the loudest shouting pressure groups and has rushed ahead with policy without taking the time to learn to understand what he's doing.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 10/02/2012 - 13:10

The appointment of head teachers in free schools has been queried on this site before. Katharine Birbalsingh, head of the proposed Michaela Free School, thought the headship was in the gift of the Secretary of State (see link below).

Research done in July 2011 by the Institute of Education found that about a fifth of the groups proposing free schools by that date had middle-ranking teachers as proposers. The research suggested that if the proposals were accepted and the teachers became heads and senior managers, this would be very rapid promotion.

Guest's picture
Sun, 12/02/2012 - 12:10

What absolute tosh! 'It costs twice as much' Really? Where is your evidence for that sweeping statement. 'Each gets what they want most of the time'? Tell that to the parents who lose out (hence my analogy above). Each year you have a different set of parents with a different set of priorities. Unless you revert to a extreme statist socialist system (ie, you get what you are given) it is not possible to forward plan on a 12 months cycle as you suggest. That is why you need a degree of flex and choice in the system. You are living in cloud cuckoo land (or the old Soviet empire).

Stephen Mayo's picture
Fri, 10/02/2012 - 14:44

At least those you mention had been trained and operated as secondary school teachers. That is not even true in this case.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Sun, 12/02/2012 - 15:47

"Where is your evidence for that sweeping statement"
Logic. If you stick with the simple system of everyone needing to have free choice right to the back of the queue rather than opting for coherent planning then you have to cater both options for every child. Otherwise if everyone but the last child chooses one option then then last child has no choice.

You introduced the example. If you can't logically analyse it you shouldn't have introduced it. Given your inability to understand even such simple logic I suggest you'd struggle to understand the realities of the practicalities and economics of choice in education.

I grew up understanding the economics of education Guest. My dad was a leading economist and his great friend and colleague was the architect of the theories of free markets in education. I understand these theories better than anyone I've met in the many education consultations, conferences and forums I've been involved in, having constantly reviewed the fundamental insights established by EG West repeatedly in the light of emerging technologies (understanding the impact of post broadband ICT on education is the topic on which I've been writing very credible academic articles for the last 10 years - since I successfully lobbied the British Council and the Jordanian government to trial the internet empowered international school linking project which now underpins the school linking system people are seeing advertised on telly in the run up to the Olympics).

I understand that deriding people with credible experience and ability is a pet hobby of this government you seem to want to get involved in. This does you no credit Guest. I'm not surprised you choose to hide your ignorance and petty accusations behind anonymity.

Guest's picture
Mon, 13/02/2012 - 10:19

Maths teachers frame everything as pedants do. For example, the 'logic' you apply to your 'twice as much' statement. In the real world where most of us live we know that a typical cost per annum for a state school pupil is approx £5,000. Gove is introducing choice into the system and so according to your 'logic' that will double the revenue cost to £10,000. But the reality is that it doesn't. And you might also want to take a look at what Will Hutton had to say in the Observer yesterday in relation to the current reforms - a leftie coming out in support. Oh, I also forgot to say in my last post, that if you are looking to link to objective support of your viewpoint it might be better not to provide a link to your own blog? That doesnt really work.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Mon, 13/02/2012 - 10:49

Oh dear - no insight into maths teachers either so you're needed to revert to ludicrous stereotypes there too?

It would be a good idea for you to address your lack of insight into maths teachers and maths teaching Guest. Once place you could explore your views would be on the government's maths education portal here: (still lacking funding under this government). Another would be on the highly successful maths education discussion forum Math, Math Education, Math Culture which I run on This is, of course, based on the assumption that you've no interest in actually going to teach and getting to know and understand maths teacher by walking a mile in their shoes and living alongside them?

Does Will Hutton have any experience in education or other credibility as a commentator Guest?

Guest's picture
Mon, 13/02/2012 - 11:36

OMG! Please tell me you didnt just actually use the old 'walking a mile in their shoes and living alongside them' line? I can already hear the violins weeping in the background. That aside, interesting to see that you have chosen to ignore the reality of the basic revenue funding calculation I refered to - clearly using your logic, that figure will indeed increase to £10,000 per annum under Gove. And you must be right of course because you are a maths teacher innit Miss?

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Wed, 15/02/2012 - 08:13

"the basic revenue funding calculation I refered to"

Guest's picture
Wed, 15/02/2012 - 12:14

You are just being contumacious now but if you want to play silly buggers then links here, knock yourself out:

As you well know the performance tables detail the average revenue spend per pupil for schools.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Wed, 15/02/2012 - 21:28

Are you working on the assumption that Gove's reforms will take take English educaiton from a situation where no people had choice to a situation where they all have choice Guest?

I'm still struggling to understand where you're coming from. If you are working on that assumption then I can understand your interpretation of my logic and why you felt your original example was relevant.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 09/02/2012 - 13:43

Guest - you say above that you "think many parents in this country are simply fed up with the choices on offer to them." However, you offer no evidence to support your opinion.

The British Social Attitudes Survey 2011 asked respondents for their views about parental choice in education. This was the Survey's conclusion:

“The public prioritises supporting local schools and attaches value to considering the needs and interests of all children. This should serve as an important caution to the coalition government in England as it moves towards ever more extensive policies for school choice, allowing popular schools to flourish while others “feel the squeeze” (Vasager, 2011). If such policies lead to a situation where more parents feel unable to send their children to their nearest state school, or become stuck in schools which have been pushed into “spirals of decline”, then these policies could be highly unpopular. Overall, they may ultimately damage public confidence in the likelihood that government will deliver on “giving all children the chance of world-class schools.” (DfE 2011).”

Guest's picture
Thu, 09/02/2012 - 18:11

The conclusion is pure conjecture on behalf of the report authors. It is entirely possible that the flipside may arise - that increasing choice will drive up standards overall, especially in large inner city/urban areas where the problem of poor schools is more acute.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 10/02/2012 - 09:11

The conclusion of the survey's authors was based on the answers given by respondents to the survey. The survey showed that while a majority supported parental right to choose 85% believed parents should send children to the nearest schools. The findings suggest strong support for the idea that freedom and equality should be balanced... there should be freedoms for parents to put their child first but also that these should be kept in reasonable bounds.

Please could you provide evidence that backs up your opinion that "increasing choice will drive up standards overall." I cited the Harvard research above (9/02/12) which had looked at a large amount of evidence into the link between user choice and educational outcomes. The Harvard professors concluded: "This [evidence] suggests that competition alone is unlikely to significantly increase the efficiency of the public school system."

Or is the conclusion of Harvard professors just "pure conjecture"?

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Sat, 11/02/2012 - 20:06

Why do you think increasing choice will drive up standards Guest?

This is clearly not true if increased choice = more schools which are not full and rapid movement of students as this drives the emergence of sink schools. It will also mean money is spread more thinly.

I'm not sure you actually understand what real choice in education involves. Do you properly understand the diversity of cultures of schools which are needed to allow all children to thrive Guest? Or are you just spouting naive ideology?

Guest's picture
Fri, 10/02/2012 - 09:45

Janet, you are the worst kind of statist - in that you are a slave to what Taleb calls 'learning backward'. So how about this? Instead of your constant referals to past studies, research or so called evidence (studies by the way that happen to accord with your own world view, in that for every study you quote someone will have paid for a counter study as a rebuttal) why dont you try reading one of Talebs books to gain a different perspective on matters for example? I will start you off with a quote from his book The Black Swan "...something has worked in the past, until - well, it unexpectedly no longer does, and what we have learned from the past turns out to be at best irrelevant or false, at worst viciously misleading'. In other words, how do we know what we know? Over 3 million people have bought this book to date and yes, he even has a pop at your esteemed Harvard professors in chapter 4.

Guest's picture
Sun, 12/02/2012 - 12:22

Your simplistic ideology would imply you might be happier living in a traditional communist society where the state dictates what you get, enabling the type of long term planning you allude to. North Korea might be a bit too much for you but China might be a good place to start. Although are not some animals more equal than others, so am not sure even with your Oxbridge education why you think divesity of culture would be permitted to thrive?

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 10/02/2012 - 11:11

Guest - the cited Wikipedia article is headed by this warning: “This article relies on references to primary sources or sources affiliated with the subject, rather than references from independent authors and third-party publications. Please add citations from reliable sources. (April 2011)”

3 million people may have bought the book - what exactly does that signify except that it sold a lot of copies? 44 million copies of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows have been sold - does that mean, I wonder, that all schools should be modelled on Hogwart's?

But we are in danger of going off-thread which is about the problems that can be caused by free schools being proposed in areas where there is no need.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Sat, 11/02/2012 - 20:10

If you are going to debunk the past you need a coherent argument as to why the lessons of the past no longer apply.

The lessons of the past - with regard to education and the state - are very clearly expressed in this book.
It is indeed the case that Michael Gove has systematically ignored them. I have researched extenstively as to whether there is any logical reason why he has ignored them but have consistenly found that there is none. Only hubris, arrogance, ignorance and naivity.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Sun, 12/02/2012 - 15:56

The old 'you're criticising this government's policy in education therefore you must be a Communist' twaddle Guest. Do you really believe that? Oh dear.

Diversity doesn't happen as a natural consequence of kicking away all coherent infrastructure Guest. To exist in a stable and efficient way in a complete system with responsibility for the most vulnerable in society it needs intelligent oversight and a proper infrastructure which will allow it thrive.

So you could say - if you abolish LAs schools will naturally move towards curriculums which pay more attention to the diversity of global society. I disagree - so I campaigned powerfully and effectively for the British Council for create an infrastructure which supports British schools linking with schools around the globe. I understand your perspective is naively plausible if you don't have much experience of public sector life or the realities of planning the infrastructure of education - but it's not real. It doesn't make any sense in reality and it won't deliver the consequences you think it will.

Guest's picture
Mon, 13/02/2012 - 10:39

So that will be no different to your pantomime 'Tories as the nasty party' shtick? And with your massive CV I'm not quite sure how you are not actually the Secretary of State for Education yourself such is your track record and heritage that you so enjoy telling us all about. The truth is that the infrastructure you refer to has failed our most vulnerable children - it is the comprehensive model that has failed. Your defence of the status quo is in reality no defence whatsoever. You (and others) need to take the blinkers off. Which comes full circle back to my reference to Taleb and the blurring between truth and belief systems.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Mon, 13/02/2012 - 10:57

I'm a regular and prolific commentator on John Redwood's blog Toby. If you look at my comments you'll find them basically conservative in nature but with a strong pragmatic element - seeking regularly to hold Tory actions to account where I feel they will not deliver their stated intentions and to examine the detail of the precise changes needed to make them fit for purpose.

I have repeatedly state that I do not consider myself to be ready for a senior role in education. All I want is that there are coherent process of consultation through which I can present my views and see them in the context of those of others so that I can understand them better and push them forward if and only if they come through that scrutiny as I used to do under the last government when the appropriate infrastructures existed.

I'm not defending the status quo. I'm saying you should not change it until you understand it and can properly explain what you are doing in the context of what already it. Do you really not understand that this is a basic tenet of good management Guest? It's clearly define in the economics of education and in all other fields of public life. I'm very startled you feel I'm saying something radical that needs to be challenged by saying that!

Your last sentence sounds like a hefty does of psychological projection. There's a lot of that going on from this government at the government and it's deeply unpleasant to watch the naivity of those in such elevated positions so clearly on show.

Guest's picture
Mon, 13/02/2012 - 11:29

I am not sure why anyone would want to go anywhere near John Redwood under any circumstances whatsoever. That is perhaps your most worrying statement to date. Although one notes that while you are not ready yet for a 'senior role in education' that does not stop you lecturing those people who are - nor indeed the inference that one day you wholly expect to play such a role in 'senior education'. Dennis Healey and the first law of holes springs to mind.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Mon, 13/02/2012 - 17:31

I really enjoy John Redwood's blog because he is breaking new ground in the way he engages with the public through it. I'm fascinated by mass online discussion and the many benefits it is bringing to society and am particularly interested in the practicalities of using it to enhance the quality of our democratic systems.

Although I disagree with some of John's views and conclusions I love the fact that he has the intelligence, experience and inclination to engage in the kind of conversation which allows us to deeply explore why and where we agree and disagree.

Why do you think no-one would want to go near him Guest?

By the way I frequently engage in conversation with people who are worthy of senior roles in education and it never feels like I'm lecturing them because I'm not - we just have deep, flexible and fascinating conversation because we can always find common experience or philosophical foundation in which to ground our conversation.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 10/02/2012 - 09:53

Adam has posted a message and link on an earlier thread. As it may go unnoticed at the bottom of the old thread, I’ll summarise the points from the link here:

The latest meeting for the Beccles Free School consultation was held with only 48 hours notice at a newsagents’ shop. According to the newsagent, the people running the consultation were located on the stairs leading to the hairdresser’s above.

Councillor Mark Bee, Conservative Leader of Suffolk County Council, has signed a petition against the opening of the free school. This demonstrates that opposition to the school is not politically motivated but driven by a concern about the viability of two secondary schools in Beccles.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 10/02/2012 - 10:21

The Seckford Foundation, which is behind the proposed Beccles Free School, was asked whether the school would be the same as the Foundation’s independent school, Woodbridge. No, was the reply, because Woodbridge (cue plug for the private school) was “one of the premier schools in the East of England… [and] is highly selective. The Foundation claims it “will try and use some of Woodbridge School’s approaches to pastoral care” (as if state schools don’t bother with such things). And it will “give importance to extra-curricular activity” (and state schools don’t?). The website explained that “extra-curricular activity” means “things done outside class”. Does the Foundation think that parents in the state sector won’t understand big words like “extra-curricular activity”?

And how do Woodbridge’s results compare Sir John Leman High, the school that will be most affected by the establishment of the Beccles Free School? 95% of Woodbridge’s 2011 cohort, selected for their high ability, gained the benchmark 5+ A*-C GCSEs including Maths and English. At Sir John Leman High, 96% of the high attainers achieved this benchmark.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 10/02/2012 - 10:47

Guest, above, implies that in putting forward an argument it is wrong to take part in “the beastly method of collecting selective corroborating evidence” what Taleb (the author he cites) describes as an “overload of examples naïve empiricism--successions of anecdotes selected to fit a story do not constitute evidence.”

The evidence I present is rarely anecdotal but reports based on analysis of research. And when planning policy, whether about education, or defence, or healthcare, it’s useful to study this analysis. It may be overturned by events, but it cannot be ignored on the grounds that something might occur which was not foreseen by studying past events.

I doubt if there is any reader who would trust a doctor who said he was taking no account of past evidence.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 10/02/2012 - 13:19

This thread raises the question whether the appointment of free school headteachers is sufficiently robust, transparent and fair. Katharine Birbalsingh, who was in her previous deputy head position for just 5 weeks before leaving, was behind the Michaela Free School. She is now its head. Mark Lehain was behind the free school at Bedford and Kempston. He is now its Principal. Lehain is described as having been an Assistant Headteacher at Wootton Upper School which sounds as if he’s had the relevant experience. But what the publicity doesn’t say is that he was one of several members of staff at Wootton Upper School described as Assistant Heads - each one had a specific area of responsibility such as Performing Arts or Post 16 students. Mark Lehain’s responsibility was for STEM subjects. Nothing wrong with that – but “Assistant Headteacher” implies a more senior post akin to a deputy headship.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Sat, 11/02/2012 - 20:21

Assistant heads are consistently junior to deputy heads Janet. They are typically HoDs or HoYs with a bit of extra responsibility (maybe a specific whole school responsibily and standard senior team stuff like school detentions, running bus duty and so on) who are getting their first exposure to senior team.

A deputy head would typically carry responsibility either for the whole of the pastoral life of the school (staff and students and oversight of the pastoral team) or the whole of the curricular life of the school (staff and students and oversight of the subject leaders). Assistant or deputy heads may be offered the opportunity to complete the NPQH which is an essential requirement for most headship appointments depending on their and their schools expectations for their career progression. A move from assistant head to deputy head would be a promotion.

That's it from my experience. Does anyone have experience which contradicts that?

Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 12/02/2012 - 10:23

Rebecca - thanks for explaining that assistant heads are junior to deputy heads. That was my understanding but ordinary members of the public might not understand this distinction. Even the TES described Mark Lehain as a "former deputy headteacher". You would think that this paper above all would understand that assistant heads are not deputy heads.

In the case of Bedford Free School the Principal, a man still in his early thirties, whose teaching career took place in only one school, has had rapid promotion from a middle-ranking subject head to the top job.

And isn't it surprising how often teacher-proposers turn out to be the only candidate worthy of being a head even when the proposers go through the motions of advertising, short-listing and interview? Sounds dubious to me.

Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 12/02/2012 - 12:52

Free schools are widely reported as being able to offer innovative programmes of education because they are not hidebound by the heavy handed diktats of the national curriculum. If opting out of the national curriculum is such a good thing then why not say that all schools can do this? Such an announcement would cost nothing.

Many free schools, far from being innovative, promote their adherence to tradition. There may be good reasons for this, but it is not innovative. And the consultation from the proposed Beccles Free Schools shows not just the “soft bigotry” (apologies for using that well-worn cliché) but the “patronizing bigotry of low expectations”. The school proposes that all students deemed incapable of achieving a Grade C GCSE English will be given lessons in “Functional Skills”. These skills are important but they comprise only a small part of English and English Literature. There is no reason why such students should not be introduced to the best of English novels, plays, stories and poetry.

Perhaps the free school’s proposers think that such things are only accessible by a select group of pupils and the rest can make do with “Functional Skills”.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 16/02/2012 - 08:24

I will risk Guest paying me the compliment of calling me “contumacious”, “stubbornly perverse or rebellious; willfully and obstinately disobedient”, as he describes Rebecca (above). Guest says to Rebecca that “As you well know the performance tables detail the average revenue spend per pupil for schools.” Unfortunately, the rather contemptuous “As well you know” falls flat when you discover that the spending per pupil figures are missing for two groups of schools: independents and academies.

Guest's picture
Thu, 16/02/2012 - 08:50

I am very glad you have learnt a new word Janet. I was using it in the context of 'willfully obstinate'. Although 'smart arse' might be another equally apt phrase.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Thu, 16/02/2012 - 12:54

Actually, guest, I'm passionate about the ways in which mass online discussion and the ways in which it can enhance life and improve democratic consultation.

In my travels through the many forums to which I contribute I find many people who really openly enjoy conversing with me as I work in a disciplined way to cherish multiple perspectives according to each the context to which it belongs.

However I have also come across those who have relentlessly derided me, called me disturbing names which bear no link to me or to my contributions to the debate and some who have found me so threatening that they have launched cyber attacks on my computer and written to my employers and my professional associations in bids to destroy my credibility, income and career.

These have been the people who are unable to ground their beliefs in any context or evidence and have felt the need to destroy me as a person because they feel so threatened by reality.

Here's just one example:

I hope you feel reassured you that you do have friends who agree with your assessment of me Guest.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 16/02/2012 - 08:51

Guest (above) links to a page which contains a barrage of information about school funding. If readers look at the “Dedicated Schools Grant Q and A” they will find this sentence:

“Schools have autonomy over the use of their budgets”.

What? But surely the Government is pushing the line that non-academies don’t have control over their budgets? Yet here we have a DfE document claiming the opposite. Thank you, Guest, for alerting readers to this evidence which contradicts the propaganda published by the Government.

The Q and A information says that schools should save money on back-office functions. It suggests that schools share these. But Local Authorities already provide back-office support to their schools. The Government says schools should become academies and cut themselves off from this support. Then it says schools should co-operate to share the cost of this support.

Q and A says school management teams must spend less time on bureaucracy – but academies take on more bureaucracy after conversion.

You couldn’t make it up.

Guest's picture
Thu, 16/02/2012 - 09:29

Slow down Janet - 'academies take on more bureaucracy after conversion'. Links/evidence for that sweeping statement? And who is to say the LA is the best value provider for back-office support etc? A third party might be able to provide a better service for less money while economies of scale might make it even more effective. And it should not be forgotten that academies receive the same level of state funding per pupil as other types of state schools.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 16/02/2012 - 11:10

I’m surprised that Guest demands evidence when he offers so little, when he appears to regard evidence as “learning backward” and his arguments tend to descend into such well-reasoned statements as “absolute tosh”.

The evidence for "that sweeping statement” about academies taking on more bureaucracy is on the DfE website:

“They [academies] also receive funding to meet their additional responsibilities that are no longer provided for them by the LA.”

These additional responsibilities include pay-roll, staff pension arrangements, contracts for services, accounting, paying for such things as music provision and careers guidance which were available on demand from LAs, and so on. School management teams have to divert attention from their core task of educating pupils to administrative tasks dealing with these responsibilities.

But we’re in danger of going off-thread again. To get the thread back on track, secondary schools near the proposed free school in Beccles have started a petition against the school.

Stephen Mayo's picture
Mon, 20/02/2012 - 12:40

It may interest those who have read this piece that a new blog site has been created with associated Twitter and Facebook accounts to promote educational accountability in Brentwood.

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