Free School comes to Brighton?

Keith Turvey's picture
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
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Nigel Ford's picture
Wed, 22/06/2011 - 19:21

Sounds like a dog's breakfast.

If I understand this correctly, he's making his pitch to Brighton parents on the basis that his notional school would deliver excellent GCSE results, yet only the primary section of the school will be based in Brighton with the secondary school located in Littlehampton which is miles too far to commute from Brighton, and would come under a different county council with all the logistical problems that would bring.

As for the ostentatious name, shades of COMART come to mind. Perhaps he cribbed the idea from Steyning grammar which is in fact a comprehensive school serving a wide area of rural Sussex.

Melissa Benn's picture
Wed, 22/06/2011 - 20:27

Keith - I suspect there will be a lot of scenarios like this over the next year/s... people of unclear background spotting a 'gap in the market' and preying on the anxieties of local parents.

Could you contact me via the site as I'd like to talk to you more about what's happening in Brighton? Thanks

Keith Turvey's picture
Wed, 22/06/2011 - 20:47

Yes Nigel it was as I say a bizarre evening. The CEO from YNS was clearly clueless about the local situation. He'd just picked up on the fact that B + H has a reputation for anxious parents I think. There is also increasingly an issue of capacity here too though as you're no doubt aware.

Keith Turvey's picture
Wed, 22/06/2011 - 20:53

Hello Melissa,

Yes he's left quite a trail. You can find several references to the ambitions of the YNS org in the Yorkshire Times. Very dubious.

There's quite alot going on in Brighton. Two secondaries already have Academy status and a third is considering it. There is growing local opposition to this.

Fiona Millar's picture
Wed, 22/06/2011 - 22:28

I think this idea of re-branding academies as grammar schools ( without the selection test) will probably catch on. Malton School in Yorkshire is converting to academy status and plans to re-style itself "Malton Grammar School".

Sarah's picture
Wed, 22/06/2011 - 22:51

Yes, Malton is arguing that because one of it's predecessor schools 40 years ago was called a Grammar School (because that's what it actually was!) that it's a good idea to change its name 'back' to Malton Grammar. This school is also attempting to consult on becoming a faith academy from being a non faith community school - and interestingly the DfE have advised them they can do the two things at once even though the regulations are quite clear that no school can lose or acquire faith status as part of its conversion process. They are saying they want to be a Yorkshire 'day grammar school' - non selective of course! Quite odd and not suprisingly there are many parents quite bemused by the whole thing.

Fiona Millar's picture
Thu, 23/06/2011 - 07:52

That is very interesting - presumably this means the school could include faith criteria in its admissions. It is interesting how much these new schools/ conversions rely heavily on different branding rather than substantive differences in the type of education they offer. I wonder, when we look back in five years time, how different they will actually be to the current/neighbouring provision and how much will come down to the quality of leadership and teaching. More than any of the promoter groups may realise now, I suspect.

Keith Turvey's picture
Thu, 23/06/2011 - 08:28

Yes I agree Fiona. I don't always agree with what Dylan Wiliam has to say but for a long time he has been saying that the 'good school bad school' debate is irrelevant. Good teachers are what makes a difference. This is borne out to some extent by the CVA scores where schools at the lower end of the league tables often have CVA scores above those nearer the top. Of course I don't think this should be used as an excuse for not wanting to raise achievement levels for all children. However, you're right that when we look back on this era the constant re-branding will hopefully be seen for its folly and superficiality. Sweden I think are waking up to this now I think now they realise the mixed economy model of schools does nothing to raise levels of achievement for all.

Ros Coffey's picture
Thu, 23/06/2011 - 12:45

Hmmm... I have had a little look and see that Mr Morahan was originally setting up a school called the Nationwide Academy, which he passed onto another group... I just wonder how happy the Nationwide Building Society would be to have a school with a similar name? After all they trade on their reputation... I wonder if I am being cynical about the words Yorkshire and Nationwide appearing in the name of the organisation?

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 23/06/2011 - 12:50

When I first read the blog above I thought the name meant the Yorkshire branches of the Nationwide Building Society and I was wondering how Nationwide savers would feel about their money being used for propaganda purposes. It eventually dawned on me that this wasn't the Nationwide Building Society. However, I don't think the Nationwide would be too happy if they thought people were linking its name with a controversial project.

ARCEnts's picture
Tue, 18/12/2012 - 08:16

Mr John Morahan has moved his business enterprises to the north east after dissolving YNS setting up N.I.C.H.E. and going into voluntary liquidation leaving one of our entertainers unpaid, and now setting up another company in Consett! Search the name John Morahan on Companies House for full address if needed.

Disgusted's picture
Wed, 24/07/2013 - 23:30

He also left a lot of staff and other people without pay.

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