Barwell intervenes on Oval Primary; GHF confirmed to have left

Credit where credit’s due.

We have long held the view that a good constituency MP, regardless of political hue, is always worth having, and Croydon Central’s Gavin Barwell is earning his corn for his bosses, who he has described as his constituents and not David Cameron (which may make for an interesting discussion in the chief whip’s office, but we digress).

So, after helping with the residents’ parking campaign, at least to the satisfaction of those in his constituency, as well as condemning his former colleagues on the council for the mishandling of the consultation process, Barwell swung in to action again yesterday on another hot topic: Oval Primary School.

As first reported by Inside Croydon last week, Oval Primary had been thrown into chaos by some precipitive actions of the council’s education department against the will of the school governors, the dismissal of the headmistress and the imposition of a “management team” (whatever happened to “teachers”?) from Lambeth.

This team from the Gipsy Hill Federation walked out on Friday, as established staff threatened to strike or quit altogether, and parents protested angrily, some in tears at the disruption and anxiety that had been caused.

Sean Fitzsimons and other councillors from Addiscombe ward were on the case immediately. But Tim Pollard, the Tory councillor in charge of education in the borough, was apparently oblivious to the rapidly deteriorating situation at the school and the uncertainty created on Friday.

After a worrying weekend, the situation was compounded yesterday when parents contacted the council’s education department for some information on the situation, but were told nothing.

Following the Addiscombe councillors’ lead, yesterday Barwell contacted the council education department to find out what was going on. He also telephoned concerned parents yesterday evening.

Barwell apparently reassured the parents that GHF had, indeed, left the school premises for the final time, and that after half-term this week, matters at Oval Primary would return to normality.

This is not without some lasting damage having been done, however.

It is believed to be unlikely that Ruth Johnston, the headmistress, will return to her job, even though she was much admired by staff and parents. Although the school was put on special measures following an inadequate report by Ofsted in December, Johnston had only been in charge at the school for a brief period and was widely seen as putting in place measures that would have improved the education and care provision for children at the school.

Her deputy, Jo Styles, threatened to resign when GHF suggested that she be transferred to one of the Lambeth schools. Styles has withdrawn her resignation since the departure of GHF.

Sarah and Jon live in Addiscombe with their four children, two of whom, Rachael, 7, and Matthew, 5, attend Oval Primary.

Matthew has autism, and is one of a number of children with learning difficulties at Oval Primary. The Ellacotts are extremely concerned that after much positive work by Ruth Johnston and her team in establishing a stable learning environment in the reception class, it has all been undone by the actions of the council in just 48 hours.

“It just seems to me and many others that the council have put it in the hands of an outside organisation to wipe a failing school off its register,” Jon Ellacott told Inside Croydon.

In all, the GHF staff excluded seven children from Oval Primary in their two days in charge there. “I am now petrified for my son, as are his class teachers,” Jon Ellacott said.

According to various sources. on the first morning under GHF, one child with learning difficulties was picked out in front of the school during assembly. Others were excluded from the school for what Ellacott calls “petty things”, such as accidentally bumping into another on the stairs, not eating their lunch, or not wearing a coat in the playground.

“Ruth Johnston, the departing head, had things in place and ready to turn that around, but she wasn’t given the chance to implement them even though it sounds she had the backing of her staff, the governors and the PTA,” Jon Ellacott said.

There remains some uncertainty, with an urgent statement read to last night’s council cabinet meeting by Pollard offering nothing in the way of transparency.

“As one of the  local councillors for the Addiscombe ward, at the meeting I pressed the cabinet member and officers about this issue, stressing the needs of the children, and the uncertainty that council actions has caused, but it was evident that council leadership has been wrong-footed over recent events and doesn’t have a strategy in place,” Fitzsimons posted on his own blog.

“I am concerned about the impact that this has had on the school and its teachers and pupils, the lack of common courtesy to consult or inform local democratically elected councillors, and the clear failure of the strategy to parachute the Gipsy Hill Foundation in, and when this backfired, to have a Plan B in place.”

Fitzsimons, backed by Ellacott and many of the school’s parents, are now demanding an enquiry into the mishandling of Oval Primary, with the report to be published.

About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email
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