Should Corby’s best school be educating more of the town's children?
A long standing admissions policy which sees popular Brooke Weston Academy take students from a neighbouring borough looks to be causing a knock on effect on Corby’s school place allocations
By Sarah Ward
Like many parents Ally Logue selected Brooke Weston Academy (BWA) as the first choice for her Year 6 son last October. Living in Danesholme, the Oakley vale located secondary school was within walking distance and as the best performing school in Corby it was an obvious first preference.
Ally knew the odds of getting a place were slim and had told her son the chances were he would not be offered a place. She had put down Corby Technical School - a sister school of BWA - as the second choice and opted for an out-of-town choice, Uppingham Community College for the third.
But when the email came through last month, she found her son had not been allocated any of the three choices. Instead he had been offered a place at another Corby school, Lodge Park Academy.
“We put down Brooke Weston thinking there was not much of a chance, which is fine, as it’s the most popular school in Corby. But to not get any of our choices and to be allocated a different school - was just devastating. It’s an issue that needs to be addressed, particularly after this year, when many children have had a tough time in education and their mental health has been impacted.
“Brooke Weston would not tell me where my son was on the waiting list, which was so unhelpful. They do need to take account for how they handle this, as which school you go to can be life changing.”
On the offer day in March she frantically called round other schools and put her son’s name down on waiting lists. She spoke with Lodge Park Academy’s headteacher, but was not convinced the school was right for her son.
Two weeks’ ago her son was offered a place at Uppingham Community College (she was told her son was eighth on the list when she registered), which she says they have accepted. She says if the new offer had not come through she would have home schooled him, rather than send him somewhere she was unhappy with. She will now have to pay hundreds of pounds in school bus fares and also drop him by car to a bus stop.
The Logue’s situation was repeated many times across Corby households. Once families miss out on their first choice of BWA they enter into Corby’s secondary places lottery, which is leaving many children and families upset and starting off a round of appeals and an uncertain time on waiting lists.
The situation is exacerbated by a shortage of school places in the town. While the size of the town has been growing at a rapid rate, the school place numbers have not kept pace and there is now a secondary place shortage.
To try and help combat this, this September BWA will add an extra six pupils to its intake and another of the academy trust’s schools Corby Technical School will take in an extra 84, after receiving £1.2m from the local education authority (LEA) for an extension.
For a few years now the LEA has also been bussing Corby children out to Prince William School in Oundle. There have been plans for a new 1500 pupil school in the town for several years, but this has been delayed a number of times. Last month a planning application went in to build the school on a site in Weldon but the website says it is unlikely to open before September 2023.
BWA’s admissions criteria states that only half of its pupils will come from Corby and the surrounding villages, with the rest coming from Kettering borough. Children who have a sibling link, or whose parent works at the school,will also have priority.
BWA does not however have a catchment area which means that children who live nearby do not have precedence over children from further afield.
This is in contrast to other secondary schools in the town, some of which give priority to children living within a mile of the school.
And despite the Brooke Weston Academy Trust, (which runs BWA) also running three other primary schools in the borough - including the nearby Oakley Vale Primary, these primaries do not act as feeder schools, so children who attend these schools have no priority to continue their education within the same academy trust over those who have been educated as part of another academy chain. The trust also runs Corby Technical School and Corby Business Academy, which operate different admissions policies and proximity to the school carries more weight.
A parent (who does not wish to be named) who lives on Oakley Vale estate is now appealing the decision after their child was not given a place at BWA despite living very close by and their child attending Oakley Vale Primary School. They don’t expect to win an appeal and are now on a waiting list for Uppingham Community College. Their child cannot walk to the school they have been allocated and there is not a bus available to the school.
“It is an absolutely ridiculous situation,” they say.
“We live about 20 yards from Brooke Weston’s gates, but my child cannot go there. In 2014 when we applied for a primary school place we were told by the county council that we wouldn't be able to access our first choice which was across town and we had to go to our nearest school, which was in Oakley Vale. We followed that and believed that the same system would be attributed when it came to secondary but, that has not happened.
“Why is there a need to bring fifty per cent of students in from outside of Corby? Students are being bussed in from Desborough and Rothwell and Mawsley. In parts of Oakley Vale we haven’t got a catchment school at all - it is shocking and discriminatory.”
This year’s intake
NN Journal contacted the Local Education Authority, then Northamptonshire County Council, now North Northamptonshire Council, and was told that in October last year 966 families applied for their child to attend Brooke Weston Academy this coming September, with 413 putting the school down as their first choice. With an intake (pupil admission number) of 186 for this September, that means 227 families were disappointed.
Information released by the LEA in March said that 80 per cent of the 8,900 Year 6 pupils in the county were offered their first place choice and 95 per cent were given one of their three choices. However the data does not show how different geographical areas fared, so it is not clear how many of Corby’s current year 6 students were given one their first choice school.
Data seen by NN Journal obtained through a Freedom of Information request by a Year 6 parent, shows of the 186 pupils starting at Brooke Weston Academy this coming September, 11 had attended Oakley Vale Primary and seven had attended Corby Primary Academy, the other primary school on the housing estate. The most pupils from one school are from the large Rothwell Primary School in Kettering borough where 16 pupils were offered a place. Seven pupils were taken from the small one-form entry Geddington Primary School, which equate to about a quarter of the class.
The trust has said 41 of the 93 from the Corby borough allocated places are of students who live in Oakley Vale.
BWA has long been one of the best performing schools in the county and is recognised at a national level. Each year it sends a handful of pupils to Oxbridge after acing their A Levels exams.
Since opening in 1991, it has been the best performing school in the town. Initially an unpopular venture - it was one of the country’s first city technology colleges, an idea of the Conservative government and roundly opposed by the town’s labour politicians - but over the years the school has become more than accepted by the town’s leaders and is somewhere Corby people are proud of.
However the admissions issue is once again rearing its head and is growing legs. A new angle to the argument for a review of the current admissions policy is the environmental impact of the transportation of children from Kettering and Corby villages to the school. A convoy of buses was witnessed leaving the school by NN Journal yesterday along with a fleet of parental cars arriving to collect children and take them home.
The situation has led to a campaign group Brooke Weston Trust Climate Emergency cropping up on twitter last Friday. The organiser (who wishes to remain anonymous as they work in education) says the pinned tweet on the account had 2,000 views, an indication they say of how much strong feeling there is in the town about the school’s admissions policy and how it needs to change.
“I think this has been a dinner party conversation for too long, and action for the sake of the mental health of the children, the climate and common sense is needed.
“The town has significantly changed since Brooke Weston opened and Oakley Vale has hugely expanded. Dr Campbell should look at the site of his school and the community that is on his doorstep and start serving those people.
“If it is for reasons of climate change or mental health of the children, we should not be bussing children into Brooke Weston from Burton Latimer as there are schools closer to them. It’s creating a lottery system in Corby. So many buses are moving around the town and taking children from Oakley Vale to other parts of Corby and beyond while bringing in students from other places.”
Long standing Corby politician Chris Stanbra is also calling on the academy to review its policy. Stanbra remembers speaking in 2003 with head teacher Peter Simpson (who was knighted for his services to education in 2011) about the admissions policy of the school, but says much has changed since then.
“Admissions has been a problem since day one and I think it’s time that Brooke Weston revisited the issue. It is not fair that those who live locally are not getting to go to the school. It is down to the trustees to take a look at the issue.”
Brooke Weston Academy’s response
Chief Executive of Brooke Weston Trust Andrew Campbell, said in a statement given to NN Journal the policy will be reviewed.
“Demand for school places in Corby has risen dramatically in recent years, and working with the council we have expanded our intake or built additional capacity across our schools, including doubling the size of Corby Technical School.
“However, we recognise that demand for more places in Corby is still high and will be working with education leaders across the county and the wider community to review Brooke Weston Academy’s policy later this year and wherever possible reduce the use of school transport.
“Like all schools in the county, ours are subject to the annual admissions consultation scheme coordinated by North Northamptonshire Council. While academies can set their own oversubscription criteria, they must do so in accordance with the Schools Admissions Code. The code prevents trusts favouring children from their own primary schools over others. School places are then allocated by the council to ensure the process is fairly and independently managed.
“Brooke Weston Academy received almost 1,000 applications for its 186 places this year. Historically the school has served a large catchment area, including Corby, Kettering, and surrounding villages. Almost half of the places available for Corby students were allocated to people living in the Oakley Vale postcode area this year.
“We believe in valuing every student equally and work to ensure that no-one is left behind. We ask students applying to all our Northamptonshire secondary schools to complete a non-verbal reasoning assessment so that each school can achieve a comprehensive mix of abilities that reflects the national picture.”