Last Wednesday 15th June, Free Schools made it to Brighton and Hove in the form of the Yorkshire Nationwide Schools organisation . We responded, together with approximately 30 other parents, to a leaflet from YNS. The leaflet was handed out to children by the local vicar through a youth club. The tone of the leaflet was more like some kind of time-share scam designed to play upon parents’ anxieties about finding a ‘good’ school for their children. It promised to outline:
“The application to establish a 1400 pupil Free School for 4-18 year old students, free of local authority and direct government interference, with high quality teachers, small class sizes and no fees to pay.” (YNS Leaflet)
The reality of what turned out to be a bizarre evening fell far short of the promises. John Morahan is former bankrupt and told the meeting of approximately thirty parents that he is the only employee of Yorkshire Nationwide Schools organisation. He offered no counter to claims that he held no formal primary or secondary school Qualified Teacher Status. Nor did he seem concerned that he appeared to have no significant experience in schools. His website claimed that YNS plan to ‘establish 21 schools nationwide’ as part of a ‘super-chain’ between now and 2013. This would bring the education of something approaching 14,000 children under his control. The YNS website is currently not available.
The East Sussex Independent Grammar School, which he is proposing for Brighton and Hove, would have the primary section in Brighton (he would not specify the site) and the secondary section in Littlehampton (which is actually in West Sussex). Although the website claimed that he will open this and several other schools in September 2012, it seems that the deadline for the application has passed without such an application having been filed by him.
Mr Morahan also told the gathering of parents that he has called the schools grammar schools because his 'marketing people' said that the word evokes a particular standard of education, although it would be non-selective. Against a backdrop of a slide highlighting Brighton and Hove’s schools who are performing below the national average at GCSE, he promised that 100% of the children at his non-selective ‘grammar’ schools will achieve the EBac of 5 'good' GCSEs. A woman in the audience asked how he would help her Downs Syndrome son manage this and he said that was an interesting point. Apparently he has never been asked about SEN provision before. Understandably, the woman eventually left the meeting early, having said how upset she was with his attitude to SEN.
On almost every point raised Mr Morahan was unable to provide an answer with the kind of substance you would expect from someone hoping to be given access to so many children’s futures and tax payers’ money. It was quite shocking. The idea that the Department of Education could even consider giving him a contract to run schools for thousands of children is appalling.
What is most disturbing here though is the bigger picture. There continues to be specific issues of capacity within some areas of Brighton and Hove both at primary and secondary phases of education as there are in local authorities across the country. Brighton and Hove have begun addressing these. However, the coalition’s push for a mixed and increasingly competitive economy in education is creating an alarming power vacuum at local level. With more Academies in the pipeline and others to be imposed, the economies of scale exercised by Local Authorities are being eroded as local education budgets diminish. Who will step into this power vacuum one has to wonder? Issues such as inclusion, special needs and fair admissions procedures have significant ramifications beyond the interests of individual schools. With diminished power at local level who will hold the Mr Morahan’s of the education world to account if, as seems likely, they are unable to deliver on their promises?
Keith Turvey & Sarah McHugh