Oval Primary parents summoned to academy status meeting

“If I wanted to work at an independent school,” a senior teacher, the head of a department at a nearby secondary school, confided to us recently, “I’d apply for a job at one.”

His school had begun the formal process of seeking academy status, to break away from control from its local authority (in this case, Sutton), a policy enthusiastically advocated by Michael Gove, the ConDem government’s education secretary. Academy status means “nothing but publicly funded independent schools”, our disgruntled teacher reckons.

Which brings us to the “hidden agenda” which parents and staff warned was being pursued by Croydon Council in an attempt to get a failing school, Oval Primary, “off the books”. Those fears this week have come a step closer to being realised, with Inside Croydon obtaining a copy of a letter sent to parents yesterday summoning them to a meeting to discuss the 400-pupil school’s future.

Our regular reader may recall that in February, Inside Croydon broke the story of how Croydon Council had forced the exit of Oval Primary’s head teacher, replacing her with the management staff from a successful “federation” in Lambeth. No notice to the parents, no consultation.

The federation lasted all of two days.

The council then leaked the identity of its second-choice head to the Croydon Sadvertiser (we know this, because the indiscreet reporter blabbed that his source had been Mike Fisher), only for Mark Ducker, the head at Gonville approached for the task, to duck the new job.

Thus, Ros Sandell, head at Fairchildes in New Addington, has found herself to be Croydon’s third-choice headteacher for Oval Primary, where she will also work at least to the end of the summer term.

In its mishandling of the situation, Croydon managed to trash the reputation of Ruth Johnston, the much-liked head at Oval until February, and then, by creating the untenable situation with the controversial introduction of the Gipsy Hill Federation, trashed the reputation of £150,000-a-year “superhead” Craig Tunstall, who was traduced in the pages of The Sun and Daily Mail. Both Johnston and GHF probably required significant compensation, out of public funds, from Croydon Council as a consequence (a council spokesman said he would “get back to you when I can” to confirm or deny this).

The parents and pupils at Oval Primary have never received any apology from Tim “Speed is the key” Pollard, the councillor in charge of education issues at Croydon, nor has the promised inquiry into the council’s blunders over the imposition of the Federation ever taken place. 

Most critics of academy schools see them as a barely disguised attempt to create a two-tier system, letting high-achieving schools break away from the state system, while the less attractive schools are left under the wings of local councils.

In Addiscombe, however, where Oval Primary got a pretty critical Ofsted report at the end of 2010, parents accused Croydon Council of simply wanting to get rid of what it sees as a burdensome responsibility, a school with an unusually high number of disabled and special needs children.

This barely hidden agenda was made plain a couple of weeks ago when the council applied to the Department for Education for academy status for Oval Primary and – again, with no consultation with the staff or parents – disbanded the governors.

Yesterday, parents and carers of pupils at school in Cherry Orchard Road received this letter:

Invitation to meet the Interim Executive Board- Friday 6th MayI write to introduce myself and fellow members of the interim board to you. The IEB, as we are known, have been put in place with the aim of trying to deliver the most successful future for Oval Primary School.

I chair the IEB as well as being Chair of Governors at St John’s C of E Primary School in Croydon. My fellow members are Steve Jubb, a former parent Governor at the school, Dr Louise Bamfield, Head of Education at Barnardo’s, Mrs Maureen Martin, Head of Coloma Convent Girls School, Danny Sullivan, Croydon’s Head of Primary Schools and Councillor Mark Watson, a local ward councillor.

I have had an opportunity to look around the school recently and have also spoken with the Head and Deputy Head. It seems clear to me that Oval Primary is a school with much to celebrate and be proud of and where children appear very happy to be.

Our task as an IEB is to look at the options open to the school and decide where we feel the best future for Oval lies. In doing this we will want to listen carefully to all those for whom the future of the school is important.

We would very much like to meet parents and carers and hear their views on what they feel the school needs to secure its brightest future. I would be very pleased if you were able to join members of the board for an informal meet and greet this coming Friday 6th May at 9am in the lower school hall; tea and coffee will be served. If you would like to write to the board to share your views, please do so via the school office. I will ensure these letters are seen by the board.

As a board we will also want to encourage and support the excellent work that has already begun in improving the school and setting the school on a sure and steady path to fulfilling its potential.

Whilst the focus of the board will very much be on the future of the school, I want to thank you your support of the school and its staff and children through recent times. As a board, we will do our very best to keep you informed of our progress and always act in an open and transparent way.

We very much look forward to working with you and the whole school community to ensure both the school and its children have the best possible future.

Your Sincerely

John R Phillipson
Chair, Interim Executive Board
Oval Primary School

Short notice for a meeting, arranged at 9am on a weekday, so as inconvenient for as many working parents as it might be possible to make it.

That’s what passes for consultation in transparent and open Croydon.

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 inside.croydon@btinternet.com
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