Letter to Editor: SFG College parents still deserve full answers

Politics / Tue 12th Dec 2023 at 05:13pm

Dear Editor

CAN you please thank all the parents who submitted questions for me to ask SFG and Baroness Barran. In total there were 17 questions, which I added word for word to my seven questions in a document I prepared for the CEO of the Burnt Mill Academy Trust, Helena Mills.

I met with Ms Mills last Friday. In the meeting I reminded her of the promise made by Baroness Barran to answer all questions that SFG parents felt had not been answered fully. I also suggested to Ms. Mills that she told the Baroness that generalised answers would be disrespectful and that each question deserved it’s own answer, and a proper answer at that. Further I suggested that the answers should be forthcoming within a couple of weeks.

I must say Ms Mills listened politely and seemed to agree with the things I mentioned. It felt like a constructive meeting and Ms Mills did promise to pass on the list of questions and my comments unaltered to the Baroness.

We must now wait and see whether the promises were anything more than hot air. 

Thank you once again

Mark Ingall


The Letter

Dear Baroness Barran and Helena Mills,

It was disappointing that the face to face question and answer session SFG parents were promised became an online meeting with just half an hour for questions. Many parents I spoke to after the meeting felt they had many more questions that had gone unanswered. The day after the meeting I wrote a letter to Your Harlow, presenting the seven questions that I felt still needed answering. I also invited readers to submit their questions in the comment section below my letter so that I could present them directly to you. As you will see, there were many parents that responded, I have copied their questions exactly as they were submitted to Your Harlow. I have also added some questions that “P” asked me to present in a phonecall I received the day after the meeting.

My questions

1) Caledonia Modular were a company that were not a member of the trade body for modular construction. Why were they given the contract to build a £29 million modular school?

2) Did any member of the Conservative party (or their family, friends or donors) benefit financially from the awarding of this contract to Caledonia Modular.

3) The DfE were responsible for monitoring build quality of SFG and for signing it off. They outsourced this responsibility to a private company that clearly failed in their duty. Will the DfE be pursuing that company for the rebuild cost of SFG necessary because of the failure to inspect the building during construction?

4) The DfE intervened during COVID to have OFQUAL reduce grade boundaries because pupils had not had face to face teaching. Will the DfE intervene again for year 10 and 11 students who have missed so much face to face teaching?

5) What new money will be made available to SFG to support students, particularly those with SEND, who’s mental health has been adversely affected by the chaos of this term?

6) What caused the delay in the delivery of the portacabins? We were told by our current MP, Robert Halfon that SFG would be at the front of the queue for these. They were promised for November, we are told hopefully we can expect them in April. This is an increase in time from the promised 3 months to 8 months.

7) Why did the DfE think allowing just a, disrespectful, thirty minutes for questions about all these matters was acceptable? And why did our MP Robert Halfon duck out of the meeting without answering even one question?

Questions asked in the comments

Gary Roberts

Questions: When will compensation be paid to the parents and staff? How many teachers’ are now unemployed?

Gary Roberts

How much will it cost to build another school on the same plot? How long will the tender process take? How long will the new build take to build? My machine cut out on the first posting!

Very Concerned Parent

How are DFE going to support SFG by trying retaining existing staff? Or will our children have no staff as well as building. Also, what about dirt and noise during the construction works, how is this going to be managed or are our children going to be doing more online learning?

Donna Livings

For 2 years the school was functioning normally then out of the blue it was said to be unsafe. My question is was it ever safe

Andrew Quinn

There is a clear lack of consideration from the DFE towards the CEO and Headteacher of the school. This was evidenced by the Baroness and her assistants laughing and joking through the online meeting. They did not even think about telling Dame Helena or Mrs Conlon about the possibility of the Sports Hall reopening or the new expected timetable for reopening the whole school before telling parents. That is a concerning indicator of how unimportant they view this school as. How will the DFE review this and will there be improved communication between the school and the DFE.


Why can’t you fund the rent for use of a building to allow these students to come together and give them the experience they should be having in their secondary school years. They need continuity, stability and reassurance to enable them to focus on their right to an education. There must be someone willing to rent a building large enough. Why are you not looking into this? Where’s your responsibility to these students and staff? Do you actually care?

Pauline D

In Europe schools work a split day, so start early and finish earlier, allowing a second shirt to commence after lunch. As you have enough staff to do this, could it not be considered to relocate the children to a venue nearby offering them schooling with teachers they are familiar with. In Europe the school day is either 7-1 or 1-7 (other periods of day used for preparation). It’s not ideal but parents would be able to plan days, allowing them to resume working and needing less child care arrangements. Teachers would remain employed.

Stephanie C

Question: Why can’t the existing foundations be used to build on? Why are we now having to have new plans/layout drawn and planning approved. This is just prolonging the entire situation.

Mike Price

The Glaxo Smith Kline Beecham building at The Pinnacles looks as though it will not now be used by The Health Agency. Could this be modified into school use? Total lack of urgent concern by DFe Baroness and her two yes men.


There seems there is an issue with flies in the Class rooms and corridors, which is concerning given the temperatures outside at the moment. This raises the poor level of hygiene within the classrooms , toilet facilities and catering areas.


Why cant sfg have special circumstances and have planning permission pushed through faster, 2025 for planing to be accomplished is far too long! And DFE said we should be happy to hear this news !! She laughed and joked through the meeting and then refused to answer other questions, all three were a disgrace, and the Harlow MP is just a mouth peace telling us he can’t dicuss matters, spend most of his time thanking people !

Karen Quinn

At the meeting the DfE representatives refused to answer a question, stating it was an area they didn’t want to discuss. It would be great for them to either answer this question in full, or explain exactly why they don’t want to answer it. The question was along the lines of “can the department explain the tendering process which lead to a failing and unqualified company to receive the contract, and how were the problems with the build then completely missed at each step of signing off of the building?”. As another parent has already asked above, i would also like to know if any individual connected to government has benefitted financially from the awarding of the contract to the original construction company. Andy how will students and staff be protected from the dust and noise during demolition and construction of the building.


At the meeting, did anyone else notice that they said that the Department for Education is an expert in building, then quickly qualified the statement, saying the Department for Education are experts in building Tempory Classrooms. Can the College be renamed, please? I’m sure Sir Frederick Gibberd would hate to have his name associated with such a ball up as this.

Phonecall from “P”

  1. This is a crisis, can I have your assurance that there are people working 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to speed up the process to get the old building demolished and work started on the new building?
  2. Did any member of the Conservative party benefit financially from the company that was awarded the contract to oversee that the building was constructed properly?
  3. The SFG site was supposed to have 24 hour a day security, yet vital equipment was stolen causing a further shut down. Who was providing the security, how many staff were on duty over the half term when the robbery took place?
  4. There are classrooms in the old Latton Bush School, just down the road from SFG, why can they not be used for the next few years?

I appreciate this is a long list, but given that parents took the time to send then to me, and that you promised to answer all questions, I think a swift and comprehensive answer to all of them is what is now needed.

Yours Sincerely

Mark Ingall

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5 Comments for Letter to Editor: SFG College parents still deserve full answers:

2023-12-12 20:15:59

Our children have had the worst education with limited time in face to face teaching as well as gaining social skills from interaction with other children. We were sold the concept of a school offering high education and extracurricular activities. All schools student holidays together have also not came to fruition. Are our children going to be treated fairly on exams and what compensation will they receive for poor standards impacting on their futures?

2023-12-12 20:35:29

The picture of the exterior fence says it all..Science of building...Portakabin... Children being taught in a Portakabin......

2023-12-13 09:28:50

Firstly many thanks Mark for taking the mantle, on this very touchy subject. As a parent it is a sorry state for all concerned. Can I throw in a few more comments / questions. Why have the reports as to the state of the building not been made public? Are there no companies available that could effect repair at less cost and time than to demolish and rebuild, excluding additional red tape, such as planning etc. As a suggestion If a new build is the only option, why not take the recent Mark Hall plans and reuse them as blue print, it appears that their build that was successful and functional?

Mark Ingall
2023-12-13 12:00:30

Ray, you are right, there a a few "off the peg" school designs that could be used, Mark Hall, Passmores for example. A decision on which one best fits the site could be taken in a single meeting of Essex County Council and the DFE. Planning would not be an issue. The site is designated for a school, there are no alternative suggestions for the site, once presented, it would be passed "on the nod" by Harlow Council at the next planning meeting and those happen nearly every month. There is really no reason at all why work on the demolition and rebuild hasn't begun already.

2023-12-14 19:22:30

All this has done is unsettle the children. It has been proven in children's test results. This has also affected children's wellbeing. Why has this happened? It all doesn't make sense. How is the building going to be demolished while children on site. No parents meetings this year,children still complaining about toilets. Children don't look or seem happy. What's the next step to help all the children progress. A proper school instead of portacabins. Please raise awareness in children's education.

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