1400 secondary age children: an existing "good" comprehensive: Gove agrees to a Free school in the same catchment area

Cllr Kath Pinnock's picture
Whitcliffe Mount has just celebrated its centenary. It had an Ofsted last month which has given it a Good and Improving outcome. The area it serves is very mixed in social and economic terms. The IMD score for the intake is just below average. Some middle class parents want a school of their own where the social mix will be substanially different - well above average on IMD scores. The catchment area they have defined will mean that Whitcliffe Mount will lose 50% of its intake.
Whitcliffe Mount was due to get investment in its buildings via BSF and there is a desperate need for work on some science labs which have not been improved for 50 years.
The proposed free school will get £10 million investment.
The consequence for the wider area is that there will be nearly 1,000 surplus places at secondary level and in the medium term will almost certainly result in one school closing.
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Fiona Millar's picture
Thu, 16/06/2011 - 17:13

Kath, I am afraid we are getting lots of stories like this. Could you let us know where your school is and also whether the free school bid has been approved by the Secretary of State. If not what stage is it at?

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 16/06/2011 - 18:51

This seems to be what's happening in Bristol where there are surplus places in the existing schools. A Bristol head, Claire Bradford, has been attacked for pointing this out.

In discussing the case Toby Young cites the admission code of the Bristol free school and praises it for including children with special educational needs which, he says, they aren't obliged to do by law. Maintained schools, however, are:

"Section 324 of the EA 1996 requires the governing bodies of all maintained schools to admit a child with a statement of special educational needs that names their school."

So is Toby Young right - are free schools able to avoid responsibility for special needs pupils unless they choose to include them in their admissions policy? And should they really be congratulated if they decide to do so?


Toby Young then attacks Ms Bradford's school. He said only 2% of pupils gained the EBacc. It is unfair to pillory any school whose pupils didn't get the EBacc. It was not in existence when pupils decided on their GCSE courses, so how could heads know they were going to be judged by criteria that didn't exist at the time?


Not sure about Toby Young's figures either. There's a nice little graph on the Fact Check blog. Tomorrow I might print it off and check it against his figures. After all, as he says, you don't need to be a rocket scientist. Unfortunately, my head's still reeling from those incomprehensible equations in the London School of Economics report about the academy effect.


Stephen Smith's picture
Thu, 16/06/2011 - 20:35

Kath - where's the new school proposed for ? I'm originally from Spen Valley, and know that this must impinge on Heckmondwike Grammar School as well - Heckmondwike has for many years creamed off many Whitcliffe's potential students, since Whitcliffe turned comprehensive and HGS didn't way back in the early 70's.

I'd have thought that HGS was pretty much a darling of the Tory education department, it makes it seem all the more bizarre to open a free school in competition when that school is there as well.

Caroline's picture
Fri, 17/06/2011 - 07:52

Janet Downs.

You've misquoted Toby Young quite badly - he says 'particular social needs' - not SEN.

No school is obliged by law to take children with any set of social needs.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 17/06/2011 - 08:13

Thanks, Caroline, you're right. Careless reading on my part. I've looked at the admissions policy for the Bristol Free School and it says:

"3. Children for whom it is essential to be admitted to this school because of special circumstances to do with significant medical or social needs evidenced by written professional advice, explaining why these needs can realistically only be met by Bristol Free School. The definition of what constitutes medical or social needs for this purpose will be set out in the school's prospectus."

It will be interesting to know what the definition in the school's prospectus will be. Will it include the social needs of challenging, difficult children, for instance? In any case, there are hundreds of existing schools that take such children - they just don't get any publicity.

Stephen Smith's picture
Fri, 17/06/2011 - 19:43

Whitcliffe Mount is in Kirklees (which is more or less Huddersfield. Dewsbury, Batley, Cleckheaton, Liversedge & Heckmondwike - the Heavy Woollen District of West Yorks. ) Alumni include Gail Tolley, Director of Children Schools & Families in Milton Keynes - and formerly AD in Camden, btw

Janet Downs's picture
Sat, 18/06/2011 - 14:20

Caroline - I thought I'd better re-read Toby Young's article in case I'd misread it. As you rightly pointed out, Toby wasn't referring to SEN children but ones with medical and social needs. Both categories are included in the admissions policy of the Bristol Free School (BFS).

BFS admissions policy said that the school's prospectus would contain a definition of what constituted medical or social needs. The on-line prospectus doesn't do this, although it does explain how SEN children will be dealt with. Many other schools have a section in their admissions policies about children with medical and social needs so its inclusion is not unusual.

Toby Young's description of the school's catchment area is a little misleading although he did contain a link to the admissions policy which allowed readers to check. Toby Young correctly said the catchment area included an area of deprivation, Southmead, and a suburb called Sea Mills. However, these are described in the admissions policy as being in the "outer areas of responsibility" to which 20% of places would be allocated (after SEN, social/medical needs, and siblings). The "outer area" borders the "inner area" and only those parts of Southmead and Sea Mills which border the inner area are included in the catchment area.

The inner area is allocated 80% of the school places (after the categories listed above). This area comprises three wards: Henleaze, one of the most aflluent areas of Bristol, Stoke Bishop, a very affluent suburb, and Westbury on Trym, described in Wikipedia as having "a village atmosphere".

This would seem to be to confirm the charge that BFS will draw most of its pupils from more socio-advantaged areas. I'm not sure whether pointing this out constitutes "a furious assault on free schools" but just in case I've misinterpreted the policy, I'll include the link http://www.bristolfreeschool.org.uk/admissionscriteria.php

Emma Bishton's picture
Sun, 19/06/2011 - 21:52

Hello Kath I wish your story didn't sound so familiar. Here in West Suffolk we have a very similar situation. The proposal to open a new 11-16 high school in Stoke by Nayland is based on taking most of its pupils from the affluent villages which form the more prosperous part of the current catchment for Great Cornard Upper School - like yours a good school and with outstanding features. I accept that socially segregating pupils may not be the intent of the free school proposers, but that doesn't make it any less likely to happen.

And again like you, opening a free school in SbN would result in significant surplus capacity in the area. There is already a new free 11-16 school set to open in Clare (a very affluent small market town nearby) this September, and the county council last year estimated that if both free schools get the go-ahead the combined effect would be that the two existing schools would be likely to be at only 75% capacity and the viability of both would then be questionable. (unfortunately both proposed schools have sites available which makes them more likely to succeed than many others elsewhere I imagine)

Yet despite this, the county now maintain that they are pro parent-choice, and our local MP (Tim Yeo), states that introducing more competition will lead to improvements in what he currently regards as low standards of education in Suffolk. Quite how this will be achieved I fail to understand, given the economic and social consequences that would follow from approving this second school - a very clear example of the free schools legislation being used to follow 'demand' not 'need'.

Jane Eades's picture
Thu, 23/06/2011 - 10:10

In Wandsworth, the Council rent out the top of Battersea Park School and refused the Governors permission to expand, at the same time as just down the road they allowed the Neighbourhood Schools Campaign to argue that there was a shortage of secondary places. In Wandsworth, there is a surplus of secondary places.

In Lambeth, the proposed site of the Michaela Free School would put it in direct competition with a school whose head is Afro-Caribbean, thus rather putting Birbalsingh's arguments to shame.

botzarelli's picture
Mon, 18/07/2011 - 15:16

"The catchment area they have defined will mean that Whitcliffe Mount will lose 50% of its intake."

Some observations:
- perhaps the free school might fail to attract some or all of the children who live within the area where its intake overlaps Whitcliffe Mount because it can't offer anything better; that might mean setting up the school is a bad idea financially but not a disaster educationally as it ultimately strengthens Whitcliffe Mount if it can see off the competition
- are there enough parents in the area who consider "good and improving" not to be good enough to make them send their children to an unproven free school?
- if so, why should they have no choice but to send their children to a school they don't think is good enough?
- if you think "good and improving" is good enough, why is it bad that the children who are not in an overlapping catchment area should continue to go there?
- do you believe that there are "good kids" and "bad kids" and that it is only the good kids who will leave?
- that's a bit of a depressing interpretation writing off a lot of children who don't (as seems implicit in a lot of the other comments) live in "affluent areas" or "areas which are like a village" as being ones who will lead to a "good and improving school" suddenly being a failure if they were the only ones in it

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