Guest blog by Anonymous
It all started innocently enough. Jim Gatten and Maria Evans, a mum and dad from Barnet, decided to set up a new parent-led secondary school which they hoped the community would embrace. They applied to become a free school, a school independent of the local authority and accountable only to and funded directly by the Department for Education (DfE). They advertised for other parents and members of the community to join them in gathering enough signatures to show the DfE that it would be full for the first 2 years after opening, a box ticking exercise the DfE puts hopeful free school founders through. Off they went with their clipboards to various primary school gates gathering signatures. They got the required minimum of 250 signatures necessary for their free school application but there was never a groundswell of local support. Many parents who signed simply thought that a new school sounds like a good idea, after all, these are parents setting up a school and just need a simple no-obligation signature. No explanation was given as to the implications a free school has on the local communities and it was 2013, before the flurry of headlines of failing and undersubscribed free schools had hit the press.
Gladstone Free School was born in May 2013 on approval from the DfE and then things got messy. Gladstone immediately tried to secure the playing fields of Gladstone Park for their school building, arguing that they were simply returning a school to the site of the long closed William Gladstone School. Of course, what they failed to appreciate is that the site of William Gladstone School has since been built upon and is now a well-established housing estate. The land where they proposed to build is genuine community open space containing the top pitch for the Kilburn Cosmos (Brent’s only Rugby club) and allotments. Inconveniently for them, it is dedicated metropolitan open land which gives it a whole host of protections. Their naivety shined at the now infamous consultation meeting at The Crown when they tried to sell the project to the community. Neighbours, Rugby players, concerned educationalists and more turned up and packed the meeting room alongside a handful of confused prospective Gladstone Free School families. It was clear that building on the open space was a non-starter with the community but Gladstone Free School soldiered on for some time, in search of a possible community benefit of building a non-community school on a park. Eventually, the clock ran out for opening in 2014 and they had to postpone their opening by a year in order to look for a more suitable site.
The Gladstone School Trust (the “charity” behind Gladstone Free School) had to take into account the feelings of the community during their public consultation, hundreds had responded to the consultation in hopes that the free school would not build on the open space. Whilst the community waited and asked questions of the free school, Gladstone Free School responded by deleting their Twitter accounts and removing a number of pages from their website making reference to their proposal to build on the park. The community was clearly not welcome to question or engage with the school and all who asked questions were labelled “detractors”. After much pressure, the trust finally published version 3 of the consultation document, versions 1 and 2 have yet to be seen by the public. The consultation document showed an overwhelmingly negative response from the community and very little support, yet the Gladstone School Trust decided that those opposed to the site could still be supportive of the school in principle, therefore, they should build the school but not in the park.
Enter Paul Phillips, Principal Designate of Gladstone Free School who responded to the school’s pompous advertisement for a principal describing the school as “fostering the mind-set and confidence more privileged children possess from birth”. The job advertised a £95K+ salary which Paul has enjoyed since 1/1/2014 and has yet to educate a single child, much less one who doesn’t possess the mind-set and confidence of a more privileged child. So where did Mr. Phillips come from and what did Gladstone Free School mean by an “entrepreneurial board of governors” in the job advert?
Shockingly, Paul Phillips is credited with co-writing the first draft of the school’s behaviour policy on 29/11/2013, over a month before starting the job. According to his LinkedIn, Paul Phillips also works for AET in curriculum development and has done so throughout the entirety of his employment at Gladstone Free School. AET has been barred by the DfE from taking on more free schools and academies as their record is so poor.
There is something unusual about the founders’ determination to open a new school. It doesn’t make sense. A couple from Barnet who live in walking distance of both Whitefield School and Hampstead School, both rated “good” by Ofsted and both recently inspected under the newer, and tougher, Ofsted criteria. Whitefield School has an abundance of unfilled places and they live well within the catchment of Hampstead School.
So, why would these Barnet parents want to set up a school in Brent, miles from their family home, and put in such a tremendous effort fighting the community all the while? The answer may lie in the self-described “entrepreneurial board of governors”. In 2013 Gladstone School spent £73K on “charitable expenses”. What could these expenses be as they weren’t yet paying any employees. The application to the DfE included using the Do It Write! curriculum written by Jim Gatten, founding father of Gladstone Free School. This was only abandoned and deemed a conflict of interest by The Gladstone School Trust when it was exposed in Wembley Matters LINK
The Behaviour Policy of Gladstone School may hold another clue. LINK Writing school policies is a core function of every school governing body. Gladstone has outsourced their most recent edit to HeadLine Communications, a company which lists Maria Evans as the director. So how much did Gladstone Free School pay their own chair of governors for the small edits to the behaviour policy?
In recent weeks, Gladstone School has announced a site within 500 metres of Neasden Underground station which is a known pollution hotspot. They won’t tell anyone the exact site, blaming the DfE for the need to keep things quiet. LINK
In spite of their 250 signatures needed to apply to start a free school, Gladstone has received less than 120 applications for September 2015 and they won’t share the number with the community. As every child who applied was offered a place and there are still places available, we know they haven’t reached their target number. In a desperate attempt to get more parents to sign up, Paul Phillips has been emailing supporters asking them to become ambassadors for the school and encourage their friends to apply as they “are at risk of not having the minimum numbers necessary to open the school”. As Gladstone is handling its own admissions for the first year and an application to them has been advertised as an “extra choice”, they should be very concerned about the low volume of applications. Many families who apply to free schools simply don’t turn up in September as they receive offers from established schools through the normal application process.
I close with a quote from William Gladstone who is listed as one of the inspirations behind the school. The school has been so inspired by him that they have taken the liberty of creating a fictitious Facebook account using his name. I do hope the founders of Gladstone Free School take a long, hard look at themselves and then abandon their plans for this school:
"Nothing that is morally wrong can be politically right."