Oval parents sent round in circles over academy status

It is said that if something looks like a duck, if it walks like a duck, and if it quacks like a duck, you can normally be pretty certain that it is a duck.

Oval Primary School: unsettling times for staff and pupils

So it is that parents of children at Oval Primary, who for four months have been saying that it is Croydon Council‘s education department’s intention to apply for academy status for their school, finally had it confirmed last week that academy status is indeed the council’s “strongly recommended” future.

A bit more openness and consultation months ago by the council would not have gone amiss.

Instead, we have had a decent headteacher forced out of her job, a Lambeth “federation” parachuted in and frogmarched out again within a couple of days, another proposed head teacher who turned down the job (though not before senior councillors had “given” the “exclusive” to the Sadvertiser, before bothering to tell the staff or parents), and a third-choice head now running the school through until the end of the summer term.

The council’s latest move, in which its “hidden” agenda was as transparent as ever, was to dissolve the school’s board of governors and install a more pliant management committee, or Interim Education Board.

As best as we can establish, at no point has any senior figure from Croydon Council, for instance Councillor Tim Pollard, who has education in his brief, come forward to meet with the parents, staff and pupils at Oval Primary to apologise for the disruption and distress that has been caused. Nor has there ever been a written apology for the council’s crass mishandling of the school’s affairs.

The IEB called a meeting for parents and carers last Friday, at 9am – presumably in the hope that this would be as inconvenient for as many working parents as possible.

In what passes in Croydon for “consultation”, staff and parents were told that the council’s “strong recommendation” was that the school would be run from September by ARK. To all intents and purposes, ARK is another commercial educational organisation (they do have charitable status, for all the tax benefits that accrue); in fact, ARK looks like just another version of he Gipsy Hill Federation that was imposed on the school with disastrous results back in February.

It matters not that few, if any, parents or staff are in favour of their school becoming an academy. The council’s “consultation” told them what they would be getting.

ARK already runs several schools, and academies, outside Croydon, including Walworth and Burlington Danes.

Academies are English state schools’ version of UDI, taking the school’s management, and budget, out of the hands of the local authority and putting it in control of the headteacher and the school’s governors. For already high-achieving schools, it has been described as giving them “independent school status within the state sector”. For previously under-achieving schools, it is a neat way of a local council to pass the buck.

At Oval Primary, academy status should make no difference to the school’s budget: instead of receiving funding and services from Croydon Town Hall, now the ARK headteacher, whoever that may be (the fourth head at the school in just eight months) will receive a big fat cheque straight from Whitehall.

The council is transparently looking to “unload” a school which Ofsted inspectors have described as “failing”.

From accounts of parents and teachers, we understand that Oval Primary is a school that is victim of the education department’s system of inspections and league tables.

Located near East Croydon station, the school has found itself to have a higher than average proportion of children from “transient” families, many passing through Croydon while their UK residence status is resolved. For some of these children, English is not only not their first language, it is not even their second language.

Some children attend Oval for just two or three terms; this is time-consuming for the staff, drawing effort and resources away from the rest of the class. But any “end product”, a child who has benefited from these efforts, may never be recorded in any league table or by the next Ofsted inspector.

Oval Primary has also taken a higher proportion of pupils with special needs.

Of course, if Oval Primary becomes an academy school, its results and league table performance will no longer blot Croydon Council’s copybook. And if the school becomes an academy, then the headteacher will be able to determine the school’s entry policy.

They might decide not to offer places to as many children with special needs, or those for whom English is not their first language. Were that to happen, then Oval Primary may soon start climbing the educational league tables, with improving results it could be taken off “special measures”, and so be perceived to be a success.

But where will the children from transient families and those with special needs go to school in future?

Croydon Council: proud to serve, as long as it is not too much trouble.

  • 8.30pm update: There may soon be another primary in central Croydon, with the council today announcing a formal consultation on a possible new school – academy, “free school” or local authority-run are all possibles – on a site on Davidson Road. Check out AddiscombeFirst for details by clicking here.
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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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