It’s been an eventful week to say the least. I’ve seen the best of our Group, I’ve had an insight into a new direction of travel by central government and I have faced significant frustration at a local level.
Let’s start with the best of our Group. On Tuesday I had a visit from Coral, the young lady I mentioned last week. It was fascinating to listen to and understand her experiences of attending a mainstream primary, a secondary special school and a mainstream college (Bury). If you’ve ever met Coral you will be aware that she doesn’t pull any punches…
- Coral was one of the first pupils to attend a primary school that needed to adapt their environment to ensure it was appropriate for a wheelchair user – they adapted their environment!
- When she attended New Bridge School, Coral made certain that we offered her the external accreditation she needed to meet the entry requirements of college – we altered our external accreditation!
- Whilst at Bury College, Coral ensured that people with additional needs had appropriate support both within and outside of the classroom – they’ve now improved their offer!
- In her next move, to university, Coral is working to ensure her care plan is appropriate and that adaptations are properly considered – I know where my money is!!
At every level I admire Coral’s determination, resolve and total commitment. She is an amazing advocate for all the organisations she has attended. She speaks with passion about New Bridge School and how it enabled her to understand the needs of a wide range of young people. She has an ambition to work in film and media as either a producer or within her own company. I managed to get her to agree to write a future ‘guest blog’ – it will make interesting reading!!
On Thursday I attended our Bridging the Gap graduation ceremony. What an amazing event, seeing our young people in their caps and gowns being addressed by the Vice Chancellor of Manchester Metropolitan University. I spoke of raising the bar last week and I saw this in abundance at MMU. Staff and families were equally inspired and privileged. Let’s continue to drive forward.
I had an interesting meeting in London with the Department for Education on Tuesday. We discussed:
- The new Ministerial team at the DfE
- The possible implications for DfE policy as a result of the Election
- The consultation on the National Funding Formula and High Needs Funding
- The Special Provision Fund
- The Free Schools policy
- The challenges around engagement with health bodies where pupils have complex health needs
It’s essential that our Multi Academy Trust has an understanding of the ‘bigger picture’.
So, on to my frustration and challenges! On Wednesday our trustees and a number of directors attended a meeting with Oldham Local Authority. Many of you will recall that around 18 months ago we were successful with an application to open a new free school to support our learners aged between 14 and 19 who presently attend Spring Brook. We were even front page news back in September 2016..
Two new free schools for children and teenagers with special educational needs are to open in Oldham. The Government has given the go-ahead for the projects which will be run by the groups behind Kingfisher and New Bridge special schools – both rated as outstanding by Ofsted.
We have been working alongside the DfE and the EFA (Education Funding Agency) over the last year to put the plan into action. On Wednesday our trustees heard that Oldham LA are no longer supporting the free school. A new LA wide ‘inclusion’ policy was given as the reason, alongside their perception that these young people could move into ‘more mainstream provision’.
After being initially flabbergasted by their response and the new position they have taken, we are exploring a number of different solutions. I have now seen the best of our Multi Academy Trust; the initial reaction of our staff and trustees was huge disappointment and frustration but our collective resilience then showed through and we have now moved into ‘creative solution mode’. We are working with other neighbouring authorities, taking advice from central government, taking a view from the regional schools’ commissioner and working collaboratively with other local and voluntary organisations. For the young people and their families in Spring Brook Key Stage 4 and 5 who will be directly affected, Alison, Mel, Christine and the team will discuss our options over the next couple of weeks. We will ensure that the needs of the young people who we know so well are placed at the forefront of our solutions.
So, overall a bit of a mixed week!!