Sunday, 19 June 2011

Some Little Gems from the Special Free School Proposal Process

I am pleased to announce that I handed in Gemstones’ proposal for a Special Free School to the Department on Tuesday afternoon, 24 hours before the deadline of 15th June.  I decided that rather than trust the vagaries of the postal system I would prefer to make the trip myself.   Now having heard from a fellow Special Free Schooler that despite in their case, purchasing the guaranteed next day delivery service, one of their packages was still in the postal system more than two days later, I am mightily relieved that I acted as postman. 

In fact I was so relieved after handing in our proposal that I developed a migraine within 30 minutes of delivery time.  It took me two days to feel even halfway sane and out of pain. I have spent the weekend sleeping and mostly trying to relax and recover from the 18-hour days.  I imagine that the rest of the Gemstones team have enjoyed extra free time and a sharp reduction in demands by email and text asking for information or assistance of one sort or another.

The last few weeks have been hectic in the extreme.  On top of the day job I spent all other waking hours tied to the laptop typing furiously, making numerous revisions according to the feedback provided by the New Schools Network.  I continued to be amazed at the level of detail required. There were many examples but just a couple of examples will illustrate the point.
  •  “You should explain exactly how you are planning to recruit governors – for example, where exactly are you planning to advertise?”  We do have 3 governors, including a Chair signed up already and I had included a recruitment plan, which was obviously not specific enough in this instance.
  • A comment made about the behaviour policy we had included; “You need to give more detail about your rewards and sanctions ladder for both good and bad behaviour.”  Considering that in the first set of instructions provided in April, we were told we did not have to provide behaviour and attendance policies at this stage, I found this demand astonishing to say the least.
The real sticking point is still the LA statement, even though the LA have been supportive and have given an undertaking that the population exists for these types of SEN and that they would like to see this provision, this is not enough. “What you must do is show that the local authority would be prepared to name your Special Free School on children’s statements, in line with parental preferences.  If possible you should be able to say how many pupils the local authority would be happy to refer to you.”   I for one do not blame the local authority for declining to provide a carte blanche guarantee to place sufficient numbers of children in a school that at present, has no confirmed premises and is in all other respects effectively a virtual school.