Saturday, 15 October 2016

Free School on our doorstep. October Update.

This post is a follow up to my previous post about the new Free School opening up the road from Highbury Grove.

This week I had a meeting with the CEO of the Meller Educational Trust along with other key stakeholders.   Here are the main points regarding their plans for the free school in Ladbroke House on Highbury Grove.

  1. Meller Educational Trust, (MET), run three UTCs and four academies. They are working with sponsors Working Tite, the film company, to open an 11-18  free school that provides a niche curriculum serving the needs of the film industry – various technical and creative elements.  They plan to run a fairly standard KS3 curriculum with the vocational industry elements featuring more strongly as the students get older; their Sixth Form would be strongly geared to film industry-devised vocational courses.
  1. They have submitted a bid to the DFE based on the Ladbroke House site on Highbury Grove and will know if it has been approved by the end of November.  Their plan is to open with 150 Year 7s in 2018 and to start their Year 12 in 2019.   If successful, they would appoint a Principal to begin in September 2017; this person would have a year to recruit students and staff for 2018.
  1. Their admissions policy is to be based on a ‘pan-London’ system similar to the polices used by BRIT school (but without the aptitude element). There would be five or six ‘nodes’ around London (North London I think) with about 25 students coming from each area.  They would only take 25 students from Islington in each cohort. (They could not answer what might happen if they can’t fill their quotas at the other nodes.  They did also suggest we should at least be grateful that they were not simply going to offer proximity based admissions as some other academy chains might)
  1. They say they are committed to opportunities for students from deprived families; they will not be explicitly selective.  When asked, they said they would want to work with local arrangements around SEND places, supporting challenging students at risk of permanent exclusion and so on.  They do not wish to take a lower % of students on FSM than we do – although they accepted that the pan-London approach might make that difficult. The pride themselves as a MAT on their work in challenging areas.
  1. They recognise that the site is not ideal.  However it was offered to them by the DFE and they say there are not many other options; it’s no worse than many other free school buildings.  They will need to create an internal space in lieu of proper outside space and will need to bus students to local sports facilities.   We discussed the impact of 1000 more students arriving to a junction that is already heavily congested with pedestrians and traffic at Highbury Barn; the bus routes are already over-loaded at school start/finish times.  They said they would look at running a staggered day to avoid the start/finish times of HGS and Fields, to reduce pressure on local transport and the shops.  Eg 9.30-4.30pm
  1. We discussed the issue of need; Islington has just completed a long-term place planning exercise and made appropriate plans. Their main argument against the ‘we don’t need you’ case is that London as a whole needs over 100,000 extra secondary places by 2021 and, on that basis, they are making a contribution, even if the building is not ideally suited given its proximity to two other schools.

There is still a planning approval process to go through but even here the Secretary of State has executive powers so I think there’s a reasonably strong chance that this is going to happen.   We just need to get on with running our school as well as possible.  I’m not sure why any child aged 11 would choose to travel several miles to a school devoted to the film industry in a building that’s patently not designed to be a school – especially local children when a great general education with a broad curriculum and a strong arts focus in superb facilities is available down the road and round the corner.  But hey – parental choice is parental choice.

That’s about it so far.  They sound sincere; they’re trying to do a good thing – even if we’re not thrilled by the idea.  We’ll have to see how it pans out. I’ll keep you posted.




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