Gazette Article 5: “Heads take initiative on vocational study”

Article 5Published in the Brentwood Gazette – 30th January 2013

Before Christmas I was pleased to accept an invitation from representatives of the Brentwood Secondary Heads group to meet and discuss the current and future educational landscape in the town.

I and a fellow member of Educating Brentwood, Richard Millwood, enjoyed the opportunity to hear the perspectives of Mike O’Sullivan, St Martin’s School head teacher and the group’s Chair, and Carole Herman the head teacher of Shenfield High School.

We were told that there was an absolute recognition by all of the town’s secondary school leaders that there remains a need for vocational options to be provided for Brentwood’s students, ideally from the age of 14.

I have written before about my concerns regarding current government policy that appears to encourage the narrowing of options for students, a worry that was also expressed in a Gazette Comment last year. We were therefore delighted to learn that, rather than waiting for national policy to change, a collaborative initiative between two of our schools to try and address the shortfall will start this term.

Following his experience at Passmores Academy, Brentwood County High School head teacher Stephen Drew, recommended a training provider that his former school had used in Harlow with good results. Both he and Carole Herman have since met with and agreed a programme with the Construction Training Partnership that will enable 5-10 pupils from each of their schools to attend tailored courses one day a week alongside continuing academic study at their respective schools.

It is regrettable that the town’s students have to travel currently but the intention is to develop a more formal working relationship with the provider and, if successful, find accommodation closer to home eventually. I am pleased to see local collaboration trying to keep course options open locally and I hope it gets widespread support in town because, to borrow a Twitter hashtag from Mr Drew on the subject, “one size does not fit all”.

DfE in “Special Measures”

I was recently contacted by a journalist for a comment on the news that the Department for Education (DfE) had been placed in “special measures” by the Information Commissioner over its poor responses to Freedom of Information (FOI) requests. In the article that appeared in the national education weekly SecEd, I was quoted about my own experience, and that of others, when asking for information from the Department and how little had been made available.

My concern was that new schools, who were not yet subject to Ofsted reports, exam performance statistics or funding details, could make claims about future facilities or quality of education offered which could not be verified. A recent correspondent to this newspaper, Justine Burrows, voiced similar concerns following statements made in an article on Brentwood’s Free School, Becket Keys.

A Free School in Suffolk has been recently reprimanded by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) about inappropriate use of the word “outstanding” to describe the education it offered in publicity material. It also censured the school’s private sponsors for misrepresenting the grading system applied in their pre-inspection report.  They had claimed that they had “passed with flying colours” while the actual judgement was a simple “likely to” or “not likely to” meet the five criteria listed.

The current government are supposedly keen on competition between schools, but if that is to be a fair contest surely they should ensure that parents have access to verifiable information on which to make their choices and not be reliant on PR?

Snow days

My kids enjoyed their recent school “snow day” but, as a homeworker, the effect on me was negligible. I realise many are not as lucky as a glance at social media proved. Some parents were unhappy that schools were closed, some with kids at different schools were displeased that they were open, some pupils lobbied for a day off, it showed that you can never please everyone.

As reported in last week’s Gazette primary schools were those mostly affected in Brentwood, but no head teacher takes the decision to close lightly. Weighing up the safety of their particular school grounds, the distance that the staff have to travel and whether school buses are running are just some of the factors that they need to consider. I don’t envy them.

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