Downhills School campaign against forced academy status

December 14, 2011

by Janet Lallysmith, parent

Parents, teachers and governors at Downhills Primary School, Tottenham have launched a campaign to prevent the Department for Education (DfE) forcing the school to become a sponsored academy by September 2012. Although no Haringey primary schools were identified in Michael Gove’s original list of 200 ‘underperforming’ schools, this hasn’t stopped the DFE targeting schools in the most deprived parts of Haringey.

Downhills’ governors, teachers and parents found out about DFE plans through a leak in the local press a few weeks ago. We mobilised rapidly and organised meetings for interested parties – the first one was attended by over 120 people and addressed by Alasdair Smith from the Anti-Academies Alliance. It quickly became apparent that most people had no idea of the Secretary of State’s agenda for privatisation in our schools or the implications for their children.  Most people signed up to be involved in the campaign.

Haringey NUT funded campaign t-shirts which were worn by teachers and parents on the Public Sector protest on 30th November, and a banner which is now outside our school. The t-shirts were popular during our Winter Festival last weekend, when the school hall was soon full of teachers, governors, parents, children and other members of the local community sporting ‘Save our community school.  No forced academies’ tops. Two parents involved children in a music workshop to write a campaign song, which was performed for the first time.

One of the people listening to it was invited guest Cllr Lorna Reith, cabinet minister for children. She later wrote to a parent, “I thought yesterday was a brilliant event and clearly showed the strong community spirit that supports the school. I absolutely share your views about forced academies.”

Unfortunately, she and the council leader, Claire Kober, have done very little to substantiate their stated stance against forced academies. Letters exchanged between Ms Kober and Mr Gove in October fail to demonstrate any attempts by council ministers to represent the views of Haringey constituents, nor do they make reference to any sort of consultation process.

We have had a fair bit of coverage in the local press and were featured on the BBC news website. The Guardian is writing a feature about our campaign.

Things are moving very quickly here in Haringey.  Two schools have been visited by the DFE this week and informed that they have until the second week in January to draw up plans to become an academy or their democratically elected governing bodies will be disbanded and replaced by one selected by the DFE.  It is expected that more will follow.

Our governors met with the DFE on Thursday 8th December and made it clear that they want to hold a full and fair consultation with all stake holders to discuss future plans for the school.  A full and proper consultation process is in the DFE’s own guidelines about academy conversion.  Downhills’ governors also asked that academy discussions be suspended until after the OFSTED inspection due any time from the end of January 2012 to allow staff and governors to focus on this.  Governors were informed that they will receive a letter from the Secretary of State stating his intentions in the next week.

The school is keen to consult with stake holders because conversion is such a huge, irreversible decision. The governors were informed that they can expect a contract with a sponsor to be for 125 years and, should it prove unsatisfactory, take at least seven years to dissolve.The governors and Head want to give all stakeholders a chance to hear pros and cons about academy conversion, and to have their views taken into account.

In any school, particularly one which serves a diverse community in which over 40 languages are spoken, the timescale given by the DFE to make a plan which will affect the school forever is unrealistic. It discriminates against those who need information in languages other than English and/or support to understand the implications of all the issues involved.

We are linking up with other schools in the borough which are similarly under threat. 

Update: A public meeting is being planned for 24 January. Contact the campaign if you can help with publicity.

Links: Haringey Campaign Against Academies

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