Far from feeling daunted or frustrated by the DfE’s rejection of our proposal the fantastic Gemstones team and its many supporters remain optimistic and now really excited by the many possibilities opening up to us. Sometimes when a door closes it really makes one check all the other doors and windows in the room that may otherwise have remained unexplored. The door to a renewed Free Special School proposal remains ajar in fact but it is not the only opportunity open to our vision for children and families in Suffolk and beyond. We feel it is an exciting time and our creative thinking skills are now working at a deeper level than they were a year ago and our motivation is gathering momentum.
I have always believed that partnerships and co-operation with others usually creates opportunities and is a preferred modus operandi than a mean spirited fear of competition. Paces, one of the other groups that has been successful in getting to the next stage, have been one and a very helpful conversation helped me to review our position in a new and enabling light. Encouragement has also come from another special school proposer and an AP proposer that were also unsuccessful, so I feel that the Special Free School process has provided a productive and enriching network.
The partnership with the LA continues on a very positive note. Several of our team met with the LA again recently and discovered that the DfE had spoken to them prior to our interview. We were told that the LA expressed support for our proposal and viewed it as ‘very robust’. The issue that emerged was to do with the requirement to commit to the significant funding contribution required at a time of reducing LA budgets. We were hugely encouraged to learn that they remain in need of school places for children in exactly the kind of school set out in our proposal and remain confident of the quality or our provision and our track record. Discussion also revolved around the current cost of places and alternatives to Free School provision including the independent school option.
Other partnerships forged recently include those with some local Academies and Academy sponsors. One of these was already exploring the possibility of setting up a Free Special School and another of which may have some building availability in the near future. What has so encouraged me has been the very positive and immediate response I received from a very speculative series of emails. It is clearly too early to say whether or not we will be able to establish either a Special Free School or an Independent one with their assistance, but it is a good place to start.
The wonderful Gemstones team has also started to look again at the outreach provision that formed part of our proposal. Our consultation with local schools prompted expressions of interest for buying in this service. This could be more easily established without the need for huge set up costs in the form of buildings. Fortunately one of the Gemstones members has already established a similar service for a different client group and this experience is proving very helpful to the development of our future plans for outreach services in a number of key respects.