Tuesday, 30 April 2013

A democratic challenge to Oasis and Tauheedul

WFDSS has today written to both Oasis Community Learning and Tauheedul Free Schools asking them to set out for the local community what steps they will be taking to hold a meaningful public consultation in the borough.
The questions we ask below relate to the normal expectations on any body that is expected to hold a consultation and are particularly relevant to those who are applying to run a public service in return for public funding.
This is even more important given the fact that as this website has shown, there are significant and substantial concerns about the impact of these proposals on the local community, from parents, teachers , local councillors and from the local MP. 
We believe that Oasis and Tauheedul must show that they take these concerns seriously by holding a public, transparent and meaningful consultation along the lines laid out below.
We are writing and publishing this open letter to you further to your application to set up an additional ‘Free School’ in Waltham Forest.

We are an organisation of local parents, teachers and other residents of Waltham Forest called Waltham Forest Defend State Schools. We came together to defend and promote our community schools and to promote a better understanding in the borough of the issues around proposals to build new Free Schools and to convert community schools to Academies.

This letter asks you to set out for the people of Waltham Forest the steps you will be taking to undertake a wide and meaningful consultation to ensure that your proposal properly reflects the needs of the people of the borough.

Under section 10 of the Academies Act, you have a duty to consult such persons as you think appropriate. We are sure that you would agree with us that a list of the appropriate persons in the case of a new school in Waltham Forest would contain, as a minimum, the local authority, parents and teachers at all schools which might potentially be affected by your proposal, together with the general public in the borough.

As you will be aware, in order to be lawful, a consultation must comply with the following overarching obligations:

1. Consultation must take place at a time when the proposals are at a formative stage

2. The proposer must give sufficient reasons for its proposals to allow consultees to understand them and respond to them properly.

3. Consulters must give sufficient time for responses to be made and considered.

4. Responses must be conscientiously taken into account in finalising the decision.

In order to ensure that your proposals are subjected to appropriate democratic scrutiny, we are calling on you to set out for us how you intend to do this. Specifically, we are calling on you to provide the following information:

Prior to submitting your initial proposal to the DfE:

  • what steps did you take to consult with the Local Authority in Waltham Forest and neighbouring boroughs that might be affected by your proposal?
  • What steps did you take to consult the headteachers and teachers representative bodies in schools in Waltham Forest and neighbouring boroughs?
  • What steps were taken to consult with parents in the borough?
  • When will the results of these consultations be made public?

Subsequent to submitting your initial proposal to the DfE:

· What is your timetable for publishing your full proposal and consulting on it, prior to submitting a final proposal to the DfE?

  • What are your plans for consulting with the following: the Local Authority, headteachers and the representative organisations of teachers in schools in Waltham Forest and neighbouring boroughs; parents at schools which might be affected by your proposal and the general public in the borough?
  • What will be the timetable for the submission of responses to this consultation?
  • What are your plans for publishing the results of the consultation and showing that you have given reasonable consideration of the variety of responses you receive, prior to submitting to the DfE?

We are sure that you would want to demonstrate both to the people of Waltham Forest and the Education Secretary, who must show that he has considered the impact of your proposal, that you have fully and transparently consulted in a manner that is appropriate to an organisation which intends to receive public funding.

We look forward to your response as soon as possible, and in any case not later than 10 May.

Jonathan White

Scarlet Harris

Mark Holding

Tom Davies

Waltham Forest Defend State Schools
Learn more about us here:

Monday, 22 April 2013

“The only form of new school I would actively support would be a Cooperative Trust school” - Stella Creasy’s position on new schools in Walthamstow

Following a correspondence with supporters of Waltham Forest Defend State Schools, our local MP Stella Creasy has written to us with a statement that clarifies her position. The statement is copied in full and unedited, at her request, below. If you want to read it ahead of our comment, skip to the bottom now.

Here a few immediate observations.

Firstly, her message also makes clear her view that the government will not allow a new local community school to be built in Walthamstow. This is not in itself news. We have acknowledged this all along. However, disappointingly, she doesn’t address the possibility that the shortfall could be addressed by expanding existing schools, nor the fact that there is good evidence that this would be preferable in educational terms to building a new smaller school. In fact, publicly-available data show the forecast shortfall of secondary school places in the Borough as equivalent to 10 classes by 2016/17. This can be solved by expansion of our current Ofsted-rated  'good' or 'outstanding' secondary schools.'

Secondly, it is very significant that Stella states clearly that she will only give her active support to a Co-Operative Trust school. This is important because a Co-operative school is a very different model of school to either a Free School or an Academy. Co-op schools are founded on a Trust model that locks in community assets and gives a more democratic say to a school’s many stakeholders. This is very different from a Free School or an Academy in which the private sponsor appoints the majority of each school's governing body, and where academies are often closely supervised from head office. See this article for more details: http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2011/aug/15/cooperative-schools-antidote-academies-independent

A co-operative school has a weaker relationship to local authorities than a community school but it would be markedly superior in protecting the interests of the community, parents and teachers to the kind of top-down, privatised schooling offered by either an Academy or a Free school.

Supporters of our community schools will have a range of views on Co-Operative Trust Schools, but it is apparent from this that our MP is not actively supporting either of the Free School proposals. We thank her for making this clear.

Here is Stella’s statement in full:

“The data regarding school places provided by the local authority creates a compelling case that Walthamstow faces a substantial shortage of school places in our area within the next few years- as those involved in the 1200 places campaign will be aware, Walthamstow residents have sought consistently to make the case to the Government that this need should be addressed as a matter of urgency to ensure that no child who lives in Walthamstow is without the opportunity of education in their local environment.

Since 2010 this case has become stronger, not weaker. The growth of the population not just in Walthamstow but in our city as a whole combined with changes to benefits and housing costs are bringing more people to our area and will continue to do so in the years ahead. If we are to meet the need for school places without compromising standards in existing schools, especially at secondary school level, then Walthamstow will need new schools as well as increased capacity in our existing establishments. Having been on the Education Bill and argued this matter through with the Government ministers as well as lobbied through the 1200 pupils campaign I'm now convinced that the Government will not enable community schools to be built, even to meet such a specific and identified need.

Given the restrictions that this Government has put on the options available to communities to address this need for places, Walthamstow faces some critical choices about the future needs of our children. Under the current legislation as the local MP I have no authority to promote or prevent any new schools, as approval for such provision will be the decision of the Department for Education alone. However, given how important this issue is for the future of provision and educational standards in Walthamstow I will continue to seek to meet with, work with and hold to account all those who are active in planning for educational provision in our area. To do otherwise risks failing our local young people who need these places and should be our prime concern as well as wasting vital public resources. I will also continue to seek to work with our existing local schools and the local authority in promoting school standards in our area.

In addition to this, as both a Labour and Co-operative MP I am passionate about the role of all stakeholders in education- pupils, parents, teachers, governors and the wider community. That is why in approaching the debates around the future structures of education in our community and the provision of new schools in our area, I have been clear that the only form of new school I would actively support would be a Cooperative Trust school. I have set out this test to all those who have approached me seeking help- both to create new schools as well as oppose them- and will continue to promote these values.

I recognise there are strong views as to the benefits and shortcomings of various models for school provision. The reality and urgency for all those who care about the future attainment of young people in Walthamstow is that we cannot avoid the question of how best to ensure we have the school places to the standards our children need in our community. I therefore welcome the commitment of all those in our local community to engaging in this question and the passion that they show for the educational attainment of all local children. I hope others will do the same.”

Stella Creasy