In the time that has elapsed since my last blog we received the disappointing news that our proposal is not going forward to the next round. This is despite the fact that the New Schools Network had picked ours out as a proposal with high potential, so much so that we were asked if they could use it as a case study exemplar. Also reading my last blog I realise it was quite prophetic as I used it as a platform to voice my views about the questioning we had received during the interview regarding our mix of BESD and ASD plus specific learning difficulties or dyslexia. In the end the key reason provided for our proposal being rejected was that they felt that the vision relating to the mix of ASD and BESD was not coherent.
What is interesting is that mainstream schools are frequently expected to cater for pupils with Statements for these types of SEN and more within one classroom and the guidance for the application form stressed that we must be able to adequately cater for a whole range of SEN. Furthermore, as I mentioned during our discussion with DfE officials I know that any numbers of Pupil Referral Units have exactly this mix as did the one that I set up and ran successfully for 5 years. The evidence of 2 outstanding OfSTED judgements for this provision was sadly not sufficient to sway their view that there was not enough evidence to support our proposal for this mix of pupil needs. Other reasons given were that parents would not have understood the range of needs we were catering for (ie children with social, communication, emotional and behavioural needs) and that our offer appeared to be “too ambitious” for the size of school.
We have not had any feedback from the New Schools Network, the local authority, local schools, and other related professionals or parents to suggest that the vision for providing for this range of needs was not understood. In fact we had not even one response questioning this or the need for a school for this group of children. We had more responses and commitments to our consultation than that demanded by the criteria for submission. We accept the DfE judgement though as it is final and have requested the further feedback that was offered in the letter of rejection. We will listen to any helpful feedback but also seek a range of options in our quest to make our vision for this group of children a reality.
The positives to come out of all this include those identified in the letter. “You and your colleagues clearly have a track record of working successfully in the sector and you also identified the areas where you needed to bring in further expertise. The determination to make a difference to the lives of young people in Suffolk and the passion that was central to your application also came across very strongly at interview.” In addition we have been informed that the local authority were contacted by phone prior to our interview and expressed a view that our proposal was in their view, very robust and we therefore thank them for their vote of confidence.
Onwards and upwards therefore and now we are exploring other avenues including private finance and the independent school registration route. Which brings to mind a quote from Robert Frost:
“I took the road less travelled by, and that has made all the difference.”Perhaps taking the obvious route available at present, which is the Free School policy option, is not the best one for our vision for the provision we know is very much needed. We can reapply for the next round though and we will not rule that out either. Best to keep all options and routes open in this fast changing policy area.