Roke Primary School in Kenley is being forced into academy status with the Harris Federation, against the wishes of the governors and parents.
Malcolm Farquharson, the chairman of governors at Roke, issued this letter to all parents yesterday, the first day of term after the Christmas holidays:
Dear Parents and Carers,
As you know, after the last Ofsted report the school was issued a “Notice to Improve”. As a result of this, Mrs Phillips, her Senior Leadership Team, the Staff and the Governors have all been working extremely hard to address the issues pointed out by Ofsted. I have been very impressed at the way in which the school has risen to the task and am very proud of what the Senior Leadership Team have achieved in such a short space of time.
Gordon Smith and his team at Riddlesdown have been a wonderful support. We understand and trust them and have enjoyed working with them. I do not believe that we would have achieved as much as we have since May without his support and guidance.
As you are aware, we expected a monitoring visit from Ofsted last term. This has not happened but the Local Authority conducted a review and have met frequently with the Senior Leadership Team. They are pleased with progress and feel that when Ofsted return they will be able to see the school has made progress towards all the targets set.
In September we were asked to attend a meeting with the Department for Education (DfE). We were informed that it was Government policy to convert all schools in a category such as a Notice to Improve to Academy status and they intended to find an academy to sponsor Roke. Given the work we were doing with Riddlesdown and given that over 70% of our children attend Riddlesdown after leaving Roke, it seemed natural that we should become part of Riddlesdown Collegiate. The Governing Body therefore requested that Riddlesdown become our sponsor and that we become part of the Collegiate. Despite our strongest representations the DfE have declined our request and decided that Roke should become part of the Harris Federation of Schools.
I believe there are two possible courses of action we can take:
1. Accept that we will become part of the Harris Federation of Schools
2. Appeal against the decision
Obviously we will need to consult with parents to hear their views before deciding on which course of action to take.
I am therefore inviting you to a meeting on 10th January at 6.30pm in the school hall.
Clearly this is a very important decision as it will have a direct impact on your children’s education. I hope that as many of you as possible will be able to make the meeting.
The decision does seem to be extraordinary, if not a little perverse.
Roke received an “Outstanding” report from Ofsted at its penultimate visit, before being given “notice to improve” by its most recent inspection, as we reported at the time, even though there were no apparent concerns expressed locally beforehand. This is some way short of being put on “special measures”. The school teamed up a secondary school, as it was required to do by the DfE.
Yet now, without a follow-up Ofsted inspection to check on whether the school has made any progress as required, and without any consultation, Roke is being handed over to an education business run by a millionaire Tory party donor.
The Harris Federation is a key player among academy chains and has played a leading role in developing academy policies since they were introduced by New Labour. Harris Federation have several well-established schools, including three in the Croydon area, at Purley, Crystal Palace and South Norwood.
The federation is named after Lord Harris of Peckham, one of the richest men in Britain who has a personal fortune of £275 million and runs a chain of carpet stores. He has donated more than £2million to the Conservative party, as well as making personal donations to the likes of “posh boys” Gideon Osborne, “Call Me Dave” Cameron and Boris Johnson.
“Harris Federation has a performance record in terms of improvement in examination results combined with numbers of outstanding Academies which is unmatched by any Academy group in the country,” says the Harris Federation’s own PR spinners.
An organisation called the Anti-Academies Alliance reckons differently.
The Alliance says, “It is important to look more closely behind the spin. The use of GCSE equivalents and the high rate of exclusions may have helped Harris.”
On its website, the Anti-Academies Alliance publishes a table which shows GCSE results from 2011 at the Harris academies in the Croydon area which have been “adjusted” upwards by as much as 29 per cent by using “GCSE equivalents”. Without the adjustments, the Harris-run schools would be performing below the national average.
“Under New Labour a set of GCSE ‘equivalents’ were introduced where other qualifications were counted as equivalent to two, three or four GCSEs. This was used by many schools, but particularly academies, to improve their GCSE rankings,” the Anti-Academies Alliance website states.
“The government recently removed 3,000 GCSE equivalents. While many school results were affected by this, academies were most affected, and academy chains did very badly.”
Further manipulation of the GCSE results is achieved through excluding lower achieving pupils, according to the Anti-Academies Alliance, who cite the Harris Academy South Norwood as permanently excluding 0.92 per cent of its pupils, six times the national average. Take the lower achievers out of the school when exams are being taken, and they no longer appear in the exam figures. Neat for number-crunching headteachers, but it does nothing for the education and qualifications of the excluded pupils.
“It is also important to recognise that most of the Harris academies for which results have been published were set up under the New Labour programme,” the Anti-Academies Alliance says. “This was a very different programme that carried with it massive capital and generous transitional funding. In effect, brand new schools were set up.”
This is not likely to be the case at Roke Primary, a state school which appears to be being sacrificed to the Harris Foundation education business for politically motivated, rather than educational, reasons.
“The Anti-Academies Alliance is very concerned that the growth of academies means more and more of our schools are being taken over and run by chains like the Harris Federation,” the Alliance said. “These chains look more like businesses than schools, and many are proud of this similarity. Is this how we want to see our schools run in the 21st Century?”
After one botched handover, in 2011, Croydon Council gave Oval Primary, lock, stock and publicly owned barrel, to ARK schools, an academy organisation which has Lord Fink on its governing body. Fink is a former Conservative party co-treasurer who has been known to be a house guest of the Camerons at Chequers.
The parents of Roke Primary will get to debate Michael Gove’s choice of academy on Thursday, but whether they will ever have any influence on this handover of public assets to a private organisation remains very doubtful.
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