(Published in the Brentwood Gazette 26.03.14)
There has never been a dull moment in education since I was first asked to write this column over 18 months ago.
In the last fortnight I have attended the parents and community meeting regarding the proposed change to academy status for Brentwood County High School (BCHS), accepted an invitation to visit one of our primary schools and answered queries about local admissions.
As I have always stated, I am not a professional, just an interested parent who is trying to make sense of the rapid change that we have all been subjected to in recent years and share what I learn from those at the sharp end. You are free to agree with my conclusions or not, but I hope they are, at least occasionally, interesting.
Open discussion is the best way to ensure informed support for all of our schools, pupils and parents.
In the past month, because my next deadline was too far in the future, I was moved to write a letter challenging some of our local Councillor’s comments in the Soapbox section about the desirability, or otherwise, of competition in education.
Strangely, apparently in reaction to that, despite not mentioning Ongar at all in the letter, and with supporting “quotes” that also hadn’t appeared in it, last week I was accused by Mr Banks of Willingale of labelling those who don’t share my views as “ignorant”.
I can only imagine that this quote was lifted from the title that the Gazette gave my letter but anyway, because I don’t believe anyone from Ongar, Brentwood or anywhere else who reads this fits that description, I won’t bore you all by refuting the rest of its contents. I’m happy to provide a copy of my original correspondence if anyone is still concerned.
The hot topic concerning many people that I have spoken to since “national offer day” at the beginning of this month is, not for the first time, school admissions.
It appears that some parents who supported the establishment of Becket Keys free school have been unsuccessful in gaining entry for their child for September this year. This is not hugely surprising as the school has a relatively small Pupil Admission Number (PAN) of 150 in comparison to most secondary schools and parents seeking admission to larger schools, St Martin’s PAN is 270 for example, have also been disappointed.
The situation is more complicated than usual with Becket Keys as its admissions code requires supplementary information forms and faith criteria is applied first. As a new school, there is a legal limit of 50% of faith entries.
Because of this locality is not quite as important in determining entry but I will admit to being surprised about the number of children who will be attending from outside the town.
Essex County Council has confirmed to the Gazette that nearly 20% of September’s entrants to the school will come from outside of Brentwood. Having written about the appeal of our schools to parents of a wide area only last month I suppose I should have seen that coming.
Like many parents I suspect, I had assumed that Essex allocated places following applications but instead they are increasingly just a facilitator and then an adjudicator in the appeals process.
This is because academies are their own admissions authority. The Academy Trust that runs a school is responsible for applying its published admissions policy and then informing the local authority of who it will take. I am currently unclear on who has an ongoing role in ensuring that policies are applied to the letter but
I understand that the Schools Adjudicator responds to any complaints arising.
This may explain the anomalies that I have been told about but does not encourage confidence in the system for parents. A clearer picture should be provided before we go through it all again in the Autumn.