Formal objection to proposed free school

By on 16/02/2015 in Cabinet, Cllr Jones, News

Birmingham City Council has formally objected to plans to open a free school in Small Heath on the grounds that it will detrimentally affect the education of the majority of children in the area.

Cabinet approved the move which is in response to a last-minute decision by the Department for Education to allow Perry Beeches Academy Trust to open the school – Perry Beeches V, an ‘all-through’ school providing primary and secondary places.

The city council had been consulted on the trust opening a free school in Perry Barr, but the Department for Education made a last-minute decision to locate it in Small Heath without any proper discussion with the city on the needs of Birmingham’s children for school places in the area.

Councillor Brigid Jones, cabinet member for children and family services, said: “We are really supportive of the Perry Beeches chain which provides outstanding provision in the city and we want to continue working with them. But new school places need to go where they are most needed and this is not the place. What this area needs is great sponsors to help turn around local failing schools, and space to move schools that are falling down, like Al Hijrah. This doesn’t solve either of those problems – in fact it makes them worse, whilst spending millions of pounds of precious public money that is needed elsewhere. 

“There are some fixed costs to running a school, like buildings and maintenance, that are the same no matter how many children you have in there. If you don’t have enough children in a school, a higher proportion of the budget gets taken up with those overheads, and you can’t afford to teach them properly. The reason we are making a formal objection is because opening a school of that size in that location, now, would cause exactly that problem in a lot of nearby schools.

“Also, there aren’t many organisations that have a track record, like Perry Beeches, of turning around failing schools. As the last few years have shown us, it takes exceptional skills and courage to turn a failing one around. Perry Beeches has done it before, and we are asking us to come and work with us to do just that again with the failing schools in this area.

“We have always been clear with Perry Beeches and the Department for Education that new primary schools of 100 places per year group will create more places than are needed in an area. There are already lots of good primaries in this part of the city and this free school will mean empty seats in primary classrooms which is a complete waste of good resources.

“And when it comes to secondary schools, a lot of people believe we need new places now but in fact we do not need new secondary school places in the area for at least another two years. East Birmingham has five secondary schools in special measures which will be in danger of declining further, as improvement partners won’t be able to afford to take them on.

“What we really want and need is for Perry Beeches Trust to work alongside other outstanding partners in the city to help us turn around these schools. The city will continue to make this request to the Perry Beeches team because we know how much difference they can make to give our children the strongest start in life.

“We face a huge challenge now because a last-minute decision by the Department for Education, acting against all the information we had given them on education in the area, is likely to have a detrimental effect on a large number of children. Schools in Birmingham expect us to stand up for the children of this city, and this is what we are doing hereâ€

The council wants to use the site to relocate Al Hijrah, the most over-subscribed school in the city.

Councillor Jones added: “Al Hijrah gets great GCSE results and is incredibly popular but the building is in an appalling state and it is not fair to keep those children there. Our solution to this whole issue would provide the best possible outcomes for children in this part of the city. Schools in Birmingham expect us to stand up for the children of this city, and this is what we are doing here.â€

£20m capital investment on Perry Beeches V on the Small Heath site would duplicate and/or put at risk provision created by investment in the area:

• £ 9.1m (2000/01 prices) Cockshut Hill Private Finance Initiative (PFI) new-build; £1.7m annual revenue cost of 30yr PFI contract.

• £ 11.4m (2010/11 prices) International Building Schools for the Future (BSF) major refurbishment; £647k annual revenue cost of 25yr Facilities Management & 15yr ICT contracts.

• £1.8m Education Funding Agency (EFA) investment into 9 new classrooms at Oldknow Academy.

• £20m Basic Need capital investment in Starbank All-Through new-build solution.

• £5.4m estimated additional empty school places over 3 years to 2018.

Ends

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