Gazette Article 10: “Council must learn that consultation is the best way”

Published in the Brentwood Gazette – 26th June 2013

I experienced a bizarre few days last week.

I had been looking forward to hearing more about the proposed Brentwood Community Learning Trust (BCLT) and how Brentwood County High School (BCHS) thought that their proposed new status would benefit their pupils and the wider community. However, I also discovered that Essex County Council (ECC) were planning to invite proposals for a sixth school in Sawyers Hall Lane without consulting residents first.

The different approach toward local residents is stark.

BCHS are truly consulting all those in the borough who have an interest in the school. They are actively encouraging feedback on their proposed plans, with a view to taking them further should the majority be positive.
Meetings took place on June 18th for students, staff, parents and the public to allow questioning of the plan and a questionnaire and supporting information is available on the school’s website. This initial consultation will close on July 3rd.
Article 10
I must declare an interest here as I was able to attend the parent’s session because our son starts at the school in September. As someone with an active interest in education in Brentwood, and also as a former pupil myself, I was delighted to be able to quiz head teacher Stephen Drew for this column in a one to one meeting the day beforehand.

Mr Drew’s enthusiasm for this project is clearly matched by the Board of Governors. The Chair, Rosemary Lovett, spoke impressively at the open meeting.

I was surprised to learn that the co-operative school movement is now over 500 strong throughout the country. Here in Brentwood, Anglo-European School have adopted a co-operative model and the benefit seems clear in the subsequent improvement in their Ofsted rating.

By having such a strong nationwide resource, sharing of best practice is made easier. The entire BCHS teaching staff will be spending a training day this week at schools throughout the country with strengths in their particular subjects.

Proposed partners in the Trust include Anglia Ruskin University, Credit Suisse and BT. Representatives spoke of potential learning and work experience opportunities that they could offer while explaining that the potential benefit to their industries in the form of future employees better prepared for the workplace.

But it was the commitment and potential benefit to the local community that I wanted to hear about when I met Mr Drew and the fundamental reason behind this move.

As last week’s Gazette illustrated, a variety of school structures have emerged during a frantic few years.

Taking note of how this has been reflected in Brentwood, the Head believes that “the formation of a Trust is the best way of adjusting to the landscape to remain at the heart of the community”.

Should the Trust model be approved and implemented he also hopes that already existing links with primary schools will become stronger. The Trust also “provides local businesses with an opportunity to become involved” as well as expanding initiatives with other local groups.

Mr Drew was keen to emphasise that this did not set the school aside from other Secondary Schools in Brentwood and hoped it would encourage further co-operation. As illustration he confirmed to me that the vocational initiative that he and Shenfield High School Head Carole Herman started with Harlow based trainers Construction Training Partnership (CTP) will continue closer to home.

“Contracts were signed this week and CTP will have a facility in Hutton from September”.

The overall aim is to formalise the positioning of the school in the heart of the town. As Mr Drew explained, using this model, contact with local residents is an implicit requirement. “You have to engage with the community.”

An approach I would recommend that Essex CC should adopt before forcing another school on us in Sawyers Hall Lane.

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