The week started, with what I hoped would be a motivating and inspiring event run by the New Schools Network in London for Special Educational Needs and Alternative Provision Free School Proposers. The event was much smaller than the main Free School event that had been held in London several weeks before. The select few assembled had expectations, that judging from the reactions observed and views expressed, were cruelly dashed. Things became lively early on. In fact the first presenter Hassan Al-Damluji, head of Strategy for the New Schools Network, did not get halfway through his slides before the interruptions began. The first was an interjection in response to the information that any proposals for SEN or AP Free Schools can admit only pupils with Statements. As one delegate commented, “You dangled a carrot and now have snatched it away.” The presenters gave up quickly on their slides after that and mostly tried valiantly to answer questions and deal with comments.
For some delegates, particularly those wanting to set up Alternative Provision Free Schools, the stumbling block was that to be successful this type of Free School proposals had to cater solely for pupils with Statements. Some existing Independent Special schools also expressed dismay at this revelation. There emerged a regional variation in policy about the issuing of Statements and for some delegates finding pupils with a Statement was going to be more difficult than finding the proverbial ‘needle in a haystack’. There was a civil servant who spoke briefly about funding reviews as the Green Paper but essentially said nothing that the audience did not already know. Brian Lamb, who was second on the agenda to speak, tried to deal with the Statement issue and told one delegate that if their local authority claimed their policy to avoid issuing Statements was based on his report they could quote him directly to the effect that this was most definitely not accurate.
Another stumbling block, which created anger, was that the relevant local authorities have to support the proposal, provide key data and a statement that the LA would place children in the school. I felt fortunate indeed that Suffolk LA have been very helpful. Although I was disturbed to learn at one point that having sent off registration to Companies House to set up a Company Limited by guarantee, (as directed by the guidance to do so), there was a requirement for ‘members’ of the company to sign specially drafted memoranda and articles of association which had not yet been published. Furthermore we were informed that these specially driafted articles of association were unlikely to appear for several weeks!
Given that the clock is already ticking with regard to submission of proposals, I was going to have to find a way round changing the memoranda issue without delay. I was, therefore, frustrated to say the least. Fortunately Companies house was very helpful when I rang the next day and explained my problem and so a solution was in fact found. There was, however, one encouraging development this week, which was that the financial plan spread sheet that has to be completed as part of the submission, was finally published on Thursday. So at least we now have most (if not all) information and documents necessary to submit a proposal.
I spent a large part of the rest of the week drafting sections of the proposal form, sending out initial drafts to a number of associates and attending various meetings to develop the content and format of our application. Other tasks involved, a recruitment campaign to identify more Trustees plus research to develop my own understanding of their role, establishing communication and consulting with parents and colleagues from voluntary and statutory agencies about our proposals. The email received in the middle of the week from the New Schools Network attempting to reassure us that our success with this process was entirely within the realms of possibility sounded a little too emphatic. Could this be a case maybe of they “doth protest too much?” At this point I’ m just trying to remember when I last felt this frustrated and also what I did with my ‘spare’ time before I embarked on this metaphorical hurdling event.