Iain Chambers, via The Argus website: Does Brighton and Hove need a new secondary faith school that attracts pupils from all across the city, or would the city’s needs be better served by a secondary where all places are open to all-comers with a catchment area limited to where there is greatest need, which is currently in Hove?
STEVE FLAVIN (SF): Yes. We have nine Church of England (CE) primary schools across the city – seven are rated ‘Good’ or ‘Outstanding’. Parents are very happy with this education and have expressed a wish to continue at secondary level.
We are the first CE secondary in the city. Council school officers have welcomed King’s as a way to diversify the city’s offering at secondary school level and provided more school places.
Would the city be better served by a secondary where places are open to all comers?
SF: King's is open to all. Only in cases where we are oversubscribed would 50% of places be allocated to churchgoers.
When you set up a Free School you need to show you are answering a need in the community where there is a gap. We are answering a need for a continuation of a CE ethos at secondary level and a Christian education for those who want it in the local community. Those are our two target audiences and we treat them equally. So, the 50/50 seemed a sensible approach. Though we wanted to offer students a continuation of the CE ethos they had been used to at primary school, we didn’t want to have feeder schools – so to base the criteria for faith places on church attendance also seemed the most sensible approach. We are encouraged by the moves by Brighton and Hove City Council’s secondary school partnership to increase standards in our area, so parents can choose the ethos of the school closest to their personal beliefs.
There is no such thing as belief-neutral education.
Should the catchment be limited to the area of the greatest need, which is currently Hove?
SF: We have liaised closely with the local authority on this point. If we are oversubscribed, our admissions policy for 2014 states 80% of the students will be from Hove.
LB, via The Argus website: Why should the state continue to fund educational establishments which have a specific religion as a fundamental part of their structure and ethos?
SF: Teachers and staff in the nine CoE schools in this city have worked hard so that these schools are popular with students. The parents of these CoE schools pay their taxes, like anyone else, and are supportive of an extension to this provision at secondary level.
In 1944, the education act made education free for all, and church schools started to be funded by the state. The Church of England had been providing free education for the poor for hundreds of years. In fact, there was a time when the only free education available was through church-funded schools – this includes Roman Catholic and a small number of Jewish schools.
Education was previously only for the wealthy. These church schools paved the way for mass free education in the UK. Currently, around a third of the 20,000 schools in the UK are faith schools and the vast majority of these are CE.
CE schools are part of our heritage and inform our culture. We believe that the CE tradition has made enormous contribution to education in the UK and we are pleased to be continuing that in Brighton and Hove.
Meat Towels, via email: Is it responsible to try and launch a school without having a permanent site in place?
SF: We have a site for at least 3 years in Portslade, this will give Brighton and Hove City Council and the Education Funding Agency time to find a suitable site for us. This is not a position unique to King’s. The Connaught site of West Hove Infants also had to wait three years for a suitable junior site to be found for the children. The Bilingual Free School will also have had to wait three years before they can move into their permanent location.
Grapes n Olives, via email: What will make your free school different from a state school?
SF: The only way to set up schools now in the UK is to open a free school or an academy. A free school is a state school. We receive funds directly from the Department of Education rather than through the Local Authority. Other than that our school would not differ from a local authority CoE school in terms of curriculum, qualified teachers and their pay and conditions.
Evianescence, via email: Given Brighton and Hove city’s liberal nature as a city, does ring-fencing admissions by faith promote inclusion, and is it sustainable moving forward given the decreasing popularity of Christianity?
SF: Sometimes you have to look past the anti-Christian rhetoric on social media sites to see the true picture. We do not think Christianity is decreasing in popularity as extremely as reported, though church attendance has decreased, definitely.
Church schools, for example, are incredibly popular. Also, the work the Church does with the poor and vulnerable is also increasingly important during a time when public services are being cut. This is very evident in our city.
Boo Weekley, via email: Were you looking forward to being located at the controversial playing field if the proposed move went ahead? Are you sad to lose the land?
SF: Since we started our campaign in 2012, we have always stated our preferred site for the school is the King Alfred Leisure Centre in Hove. This would provide a great site to redevelop and provide much needed leisure and education facilities for the community.
We could share the new leisure facilities with the community. The alternative is to build 400-plus flats on that site. We believe it would put too much pressure on local schools to build more housing in this area. Schools there are already unable to cope with demand at primary level.
We were surprised to be allocated the BHASVIC field by Brighton and Hove council officers and the Education Funding Agency, especially as we knew that there was controversy over how the local schools and the local community in Seven Dials wanted to use the BHASVIC field.
We were not sad to lose the land because it was not ours in the first place – it was only ever a proposal.
King’s stated to the Department of Education in our project meetings that we did not think it was an ideal location for the school. This was also a key factor of the school not going ahead on that site – as well as the 5,000 signatures opposing the redevelopment of the site!
All Saint, via email: What next for the free school – are there lots of other options available, or does this leave the school in a worrying position?
SF: There are other options available.
Brighton and Hove City Council and the Education Funding Agency (part of the Department for Education) are working closely together to find King’s a permanent site. We have found that council officers have been incredibly helpful. At the end of the day we have the same motivation – to provide the best education for children in our city.
But we do face challenges in a built-up area like Brighton and Hove. And there is a responsibility for elected council members and the community to prioritise the provision of future school places in our city. In the next few years we will face a crisis in the shortage of school places. King’s will only help solve a small part of the need for future school places.
Dell Pad: Does it change the time scale for the school’s opening? Without a permanent site does it put the school in jeopardy?
SF: The school is opening in 2013 in Portslade and we can’t wait to start. We have contracted nine teachers (including myself) and we are currently in the process of recruiting support staff.
One council officer at our ‘Meet the Headteacher’ event said to the 200 people gathered in the audience: “We need King’s just as much as you need King’s.” He was speaking in relation to widening the diversity of the city’s offering as well as helping provide much needed school places. If King’s weren’t to go ahead after three years, that would leave hundreds of school children without a school place in the city. That is an illegal position and would be a huge failing to those families – it would not happen in the UK.
Mane man, via email: Did you support the proposed location of BHASVIC playing fields?
SF: If the local community around the field had wanted the school, then we would have supported the development of the school there.
However, we did not think that it was an ideal site for the school. Our preferred site has always been the King Alfred Centre (sharing leisure facilities with the local community). The area of south of the New Church Road area in Hove is the area least well served in terms of secondary schools, yet it is in an area of acute educational need.
Rolivan, The Argus website: I often wonder why there is such a huge fee for private education in England. Where does the £15,000 a year go and aren't all of these schools set up as charitable organisations?
SF: It costs about the same amount of money to educate children through the state system, if you are talking of £15,000. Most of a state school’s budget is spent on teachers. Free Schools and Academies don’t get more funding. Around 11% of a school’s budget is spent on other educational services such as Speech and Language Therapy, these services are coordinated by the Local Authority, or in the case of a Free School, the Charitable Trust that manages the school.