Thursday, 29 April 2010

An exclusive: The Beaufoy School as a 780 student Academy

I heard one local mutter recently, "Sometimes information turns up in brown unmarked envelopes." Perhaps there's an anonymous email equivalent too.  I wouldn't know.  But I have received information that might be termed "concrete whispers", in written form, on the matter of the Beuafoy School. This information is exclusive, and I think it would be fair to say that it was leaked some weeks ago from sources close to the Council, but I do think local residents might want to ask some questions at the hustings this evening.

I was unable to solidify the facts on the account of the history of the Beaufoy School (and needless to say, Cllr McGlone was only able to refute the facts as I stated them, but wasn't able to provide alternative evidence).  I do think it's probably fair to posit that Lambeth Council didn't like the bypassing of the National Curriculum by the Young Foundation, or indeed their plans for a school for 250 students.  It is thought that Lambeth Council went behind the back of the Young Foundation last year by approaching the DCHF directly with their own idea, a month or so before the papers would have been signed, but again, you'll have to take my source's word on that... Lambeth Council will argue that the proposals were not sufficiently developed and never reached the government's desk. All I can say is that the deal got far enough for the DCHF to annouce the Beaufoy in their press release, only to have to recant when they realised the papers hadn't been signed...

So I can now exclusively reveal that Lambeth Council are considering alternative plans to turn the Beaufoy site into an Academy for 780 students.  (Do we think the Beaufoy site can support this, and would local residents be happy about it?)  It would not be a state-controlled school (in the manner of the much-improved and now sought-after Lilian Baylis).  The academy model tends to ensure that whilst schools are state-funded, they are run by private companies (or parents).  So, talks are in progress with a Swedish company named Kunskapsskolan (it really rolls off the tongue) to run The Beaufoy in Lambeth (as well as other schools in the UK).

I don't entirely understand the rationale behind the move.  I wondered at first whether the school plans were part of the unelaborated Labour Council plans to go co-operative.  A co-operative council is one in which citizens are lead to believe that they might "take control", in a manner which would supposedly lead to improved services.  (When I asked Cllr Steve Reed for further clarification about how the co-op council would work re. the Lilian Baylis hub (see comments on the Onionbag blog about swimming), none were forthcoming, and I do think the burden of proof is on the council to state more concretely what this form of government would take.)

But handing over a local school site to a private company (which tends to sound like a Conservative policy, and not something Labour would endorse) is not a particularly co-operative style move.  I would have thought that a co-operative move might involve discussing varying options for schools with local parents, or investigating whether there is demand for adult further education. I'm not suggesting that building an Academy would be a bad move. The jury is probably still out about academy schools (although some local politicians had strong views on the matter at the most recent hustings), but questions about how the curriculum might work, or what the school would teach are open questions. More importantly, there are questions of funding and selection. Would an Academy school receive more funding than a state-maintained counterpart? And, would an Academy School end up benefitting border-hopping parents/students, as opposed to Lambeth pupils?

One might wonder why the Kunskapsskolan might not consider using the former Lilian Baylis (it might be a better fit for all of those students), but apparently the Council have warned them off that site.  And the former Lilian Baylis is rumoured to be the site of a a permanent lease with the Sports Action Zone (SAZ).  I sincerely hope that the "community hub" (whoever they are) will be consulted on the matter because otherwise it doesn't really sound like a community venture, does it?  And I've heard rumours from a different set of locals that SAZ can be quite difficult to hire space from, even for community ventures.  It appears that pressure has to be applied from the top to get them to concede, and I'd be rather unhappy to think that the Council were preparing to enter into a permanent agreement with one partner who are already being difficult about co-operating with local groups.

Further news as I receive it...

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