Over the past few weeks I have been contacted by a large number of parents and prospective parents of pupils at Oxted School concerned about the proposed change to Foundation Status and then Academy. I have since spoken with parents, the headteachers and Governors of the school, and noted comments online in other public forums. I have also written to the Governing Board to seek clarification on a number of key issues.
From these discussions, I believe that there are a number of important points to clarify within the ongoing debate around these proposals:
The decision to extend the consultation and undertake further parent engagement sessions this week is welcome. It is encouraging that the School has recognised it needs to do more to listen to the concerns of parents and explain the changes proposed.
Whilst there are still questions to be answered around Foundation Status, this would not allow the school grounds to be ‘privatised’ in any way. The school property would remain publicly owned; any future changes to the site would have to be proven to be in the best interest of Oxted’s pupils, with all funds reinvested in improving the school. Land cannot be sold off to benefit anyone else, including The Howard Partnership Trust. In addition, any proposals would have to be reviewed and approved by the Secretary of State for Educatoin.
Becoming an academy is not an unusual step; it will allow the school to make more of its own decisions. Academies have more freedom to take decisions in the interests of pupils, as well as increased scope to collaborate and share expertise if they join a multi-academy trust. Over 60% of schools are now academies, and amongst local state schools in the area the Governing Body pointed out that de Stafford is a Foundation School, and Warlingham an Academy. Staff at Oxted have been balloted and are in favour of the proposals by a clear majority.
The school will remain inclusive. I fully appreciate the concerns of parents, and particularly those who have children with special educational needs, that there could be a change in admissions policy. The Governors have assured me in writing of their commitment to offering a comprehensive education for students of all abilities, and that this includes maintaining the school’s outstanding SEN provision and Visually Impaired Unit.
The correct process has been followed to reach this decision. The decision to join a multi-academy trust was taken by the school governors, who received training and sought independent advice before considering a range of possible options for the school. Surrey County Council encouraged the school to consider partnership working and supported the appointment of THPT, who were one of three academy chains interviewed.
A ballot would be impractical. It is not clear who a ballot should include – current parents, the local community, or everyone within the catchment area – and who would pay for it. Many of the issues at stake, from admissions policy, SEN provision, or how Oxted will work with other schools cannot be encompassed within a simple yes or no question.
I will continue to listen carefully to the points being made by all sides as we move forward, and I would encourage parents to get in touch with the school directly to talk through their concerns.