To receive Questions from the Public, in accordance with the Council’s Constitution.
The Committee considered two public questions that had been received in accordance with the Council’s Constitution.
Question received from Eamonn Keane:
The report relating to Agenda item 6 presents data at the Oldham borough level, and compares this with national data. This masks the gross inequalities within the Borough with regards to educational opportunities and outcomes.
For example, a parent's chances of getting their first choice school are excellent in some wards in the Borough - over 90% - whereas elsewhere in Oldham this indicator can be lower than 50%. Similarly, the percentage of families getting one of their first 3 preferences varies massively between wards.
In simply reporting and monitoring the Borough averages, rather than Ward level data, is the Council not failing to address the inequalities in education within Oldham? Does the Council have any objectives to do so?
The Oldham Fairness Commission report in 2015 contained the recommendation to “define a comprehensive dataset for monitoring progress in tackling education inequalities”. Was this implemented, and if so, is it available publicly?
The Brian Clarke Academy will be another town centre school that prefers children from far and wide - if they meet faith criteria - to children from deprived backgrounds, living on the school’s doorstep. Those children’s educational opportunities are much poorer by comparison, but they are at the back of the queue for places. Could the reason councillors have supported this inequitable admissions policy, be due to a lack of awareness of the inequalities within the Borough?
The following response was provided:
We are only the admission authority for Saddleworth School. All other schools are their own admissions authority. Secondary allocation is not planned on a ward basis as the whole of the borough is the secondary planning area.
Dfe only ask for borough wide information. We are supporting schools that are unperforming some of whom such as R and C and Failsworth are improving schools. The Council have pushed to ensure that the BCA is as accessible as possible to everybody.
The LA constantly monitors progress within the education sector with a keen focus on assisting and supporting schools to improve outcomes for those schools who require improvement. It is the Council’s ambition that all pupils should have access to a good or outstanding school.
We are not aware that the recommendation to define a comprehensive dataset for monitoring progress in tackling education inequalities was taken up, however there are a set of social mobility indicators that are monitored through the opportunity Area programme.”
Councillors are acutely aware of inequalities in the borough. 50% of places will go to children who live in the 3 geographic bands which span all wards. We have worked with the trust to build a school that is accessible and multicultural. We believe that the majority of faith places will be offered to pupils that live within the two miles of the schools. The Policy was discussed with the LA and approved by the Dfe. As a faith-based school the trust are allowed to offer up to 50 % of places on a faith basis.
Question received from Fakrul Choudhury:
Answering a question about the Brian Clarke Academy at last month’s Cabinet meeting, Cllr Mushstaq stated 'The Council feel that the Admissions arrangements for the new school will ensure all groups will have an equal opportunity to gain a place at that school’.
This is demonstrably untrue. It is a matter of fact, not opinion. Most Oldhamers are only eligible for the places allocated to their geographical zone, but children of regular worshippers are also eligible for the ‘faith-based places’. As a result, those children have access to over twice as many places.
We are sure that Cllr Mushtaq will not have intended to mislead residents, but his words could give them the false impression that that their child has an equal chance of going to the Brian Clarke Academy, when they don’t.
It is regrettable that children face religious discrimination in the allocation of school places, but it would be a further injustice for parents to be deceived about the effect of this.
Could we therefore request that Council formally withdraw the claim that all groups have an equal opportunity to gain a place at the school?
The following response was provided:
There is an opportunity for all children to apply for the school and have a chance of being offered a place at the school. It is likely that many Christian faith-based applications will in the first instance go to established church schools such as BC1 and Crompton House. The school will be 50 % faith and 50% non-faith. The faith and distance criteria only come into effect if the school is over subscribed. If there are only 240 applications all those children will get a place regardless of faith or location.
The LA will monitor the implementation of the Admissions Policy. Estimations show that around 80% of places would be offered to children living within the first two miles of the school.