In September’s announcement of another wave of free schools, there was no mention of the free school proposed for Brighton and Hove. The application comes from the University of Brighton Academies Trust (UoBAT), although the Trust claims that its application is made with the support of Brighton and Hove Council.
Whilst the school is described as a free school, it is in effect an academy which will be entirely run by the University Trust. As we wait to hear whether the trust’s application is successful, we have some questions about the role the Trust is seeking to adopt in the local education system.
Impact on the school system in Brighton and Hove
There is a clear need for more secondary places in Brighton and Hove in the near future. At the same time, some high schools are undersubscribed, which leads to problems for them. How will UoBAT seek to avoid exacerbating these difficulties?
At present, maintained schools in B&H work together in a number of ways. This has led to a rise in standards across the city. How would the UoBAT Free School work with these schools?
UoBAT claims to have the expertise to help schools improve. In the past, University of Brighton staff have worked with any school in the area. Will you now only work with schools who are prepared to become part of UoBAT? If staff from the University of Brighton work with a maintained school, will there be an intention to recruit that school to UoBAT? If a school which becomes part of UoBAT improves, will it be able to return to maintained status?
Accountability and the local community
The Government’s intention is that free schools should be established by parent groups or community groups. How are such groups involved in the planning of the UoBAT free school?
Maintained schools have elected parent and teacher governors. What will be the corresponding arrangements for the UoBAT Free School? Similarly, the B&H councillors responsible for maintained schools are elected and can be voted out. In what way is UoBAT accountable to the local community?
Teachers and the Free School
David Cameron has said that he wants want ‘teachers not bureaucrats deciding how best to educate our children.’ How will teachers make the important decisions in the UoBAT Free School?
Initial Teacher Education (ITE) is changing. More places for trainee teachers are now allocated to schools rather than to institutions like universities. This system means that the University of Brighton may lose out. Is one motivation for the establishment of the UoBAT to shore up its position as a teacher-training institution, using the Trust’s schools as suppliers of ITE places to the University? When encouraging schools to convert to academy status within the Trust, shouldn’t it be made clear that this is one reason why the University is encouraging conversion?
Schools which become academies are better off because they are allowed to keep the funding that had previously been allocated to the authority for central functions such as finance, estates and ICT. However, academies within a trust must have their budget top-sliced to fund the trust itself. Typically, a 5% top-slice takes about £300k per annum from an average-sized secondary school and £75k pa from a primary school. Shouldn’t this be made clear to both schools and parents when schools are being encouraged to convert to academies within the Trust?
Long term objectives
What is UoBAT’s long term objective? Will it be content with a single secondary school in B&H or will it seek to achieve economies of scale by encouraging other schools (primary and secondary) to become part of the Trust? Will it be open about these intentions?