Nash letter dashes hopes for Roke to escape Harris

Parents, governors and staff at Roke Primary were left “shattered” last week, after the local MP, Richard Ottaway, passed on to them a letter he had received from Lord Nash, the under-secretary at the Department for Education.

Roke badgeNash’s letter runs to nearly one thousand words.

It could have been boiled down to two, one that starts with F and another that ends in F, such is its content’s contempt for the truth and the requirements of the law.

Apparently under orders from his boss, Michael Gove, Nash’s department appears hell-bent on ignoring the views of the parents and teachers, ignoring the local education authority, even ignoring the status of the school according to Ofsted, and going ahead to hand over the Primary, with its publicly paid-for buildings and land, to the private Harris Federation, an organisation run by one of the Conservative party’s most generous donors.

Here is Nash’s letter in full:

Dear Mr Ottaway

Thank you for your letter dated 15 January addressed to the Secretary of State regarding the sponsorship of Roke Primary School, Croydon. I am responding as the Minister responsible for this policy area.

I would like to start by saying that outcomes for pupils are the most important concern for us. We are very clear there is an urgent need to tackle those primary schools which are underperforming – we want to help schools like Roke, which despite the best efforts of the staff and local authority, are not performing as well as they should. We believe a substantially different solution is required and that the support of a strong sponsor is the best way to make Roke improve quickly and ensure that improvements are sustained.

As you are aware, Ofsted gave the school a Notice to Improve in May 2012. Ofsted deemed that the school requires significant improvement because it is performing significantly less well than in all the circumstances it could be reasonably expected to perform and that significant improvement is required in relation to the leadership and management of the school.

Ofsted carried out a monitoring visit on 16 January 2013 to assess the progress of the school since the full inspection in May. Ofsted judged overall that the school is making satisfactory progress in addressing the issues for improvement and in raising the pupils’ achievement. Therefore, the school remains ‘eligible for intervention’ as the Notice to Improve from May remains in force.

We acknowledge the school is making satisfactory progress towards the removal of the Notice to Improve. However, whilst the school has made some improvements the Ofsted monitoring inspection highlighted that there is still limited evidence that these are secure and sustainable, and as a result the school and its pupils remain vulnerable with a considerable amount of work still to be done.

We have carefully considered the outcome of the monitoring visit, representations from Malcolm Farquharson (Chair of Governors at Roke) and yourself, as well as Riddlesdown Collegiate’s work with Roke. We are also aware that some parents share your view that Riddlesdown should sponsor Roke. Having considered all the relevant factors, we maintain the view that the Harris Federation remains the best and strongest sponsor for Roke. We recognise that you, the school and your constituents will find this disappointing but we feel firmly that this is in the best interests of the pupils at the school.

The buildings at Roke Primary, in Kenley, about to be handed over to a private business

The buildings at Roke Primary, in Kenley, about to be handed over to a private business

The pupils at Roke deserve the best possible education and Roke needs to improve urgently to address this, which it will be able to do with a strong and proven sponsor.

Harris is one of our very best Academy sponsors with an exceptional primary team.

Sir Robin Bosher, who is Director of Primary Education at Harris, is a leader with an outstanding track record of transforming London primary schools.

Harris has confirmed it wishes to support Roke out of the Notice to Improve and bring about the improvements needed, not only in pupil progress but also management systems and leadership. Nine Harris Academies are rated by Ofsted as “Outstanding”. Harris also has experience of turning around previously underperforming schools in London. We understand that Sir Robin has been working with Roke since we confirmed that Harris was our preferred sponsor.

Turning to the issue of Riddlesdown as a sponsor, officials carefully considered the school as a potential sponsor for underperforming schools. When considering a school as a potential sponsor the Department explores a range of indicators including the schools results, their Ofsted rating, their long term capacity to support a school needing rapid improvement, and their experience of delivering educational services at primary and secondary level. Officials took all those factors into account and as a result Riddlesdown has not yet been accepted into the Department’s Academy sponsor pool.

Officials have offered to work with Riddlesdown to further develop their evidence base with a view to becoming a sponsor in the near future.

Once accepted into the pool, schools are matched to an underperforming school on a case by case basis. Therefore, Riddlesdown may have received the message that they would be a good potential sponsor for underperforming schools, but this is not to say that they were the best fit for Roke. In addition, we understand that Riddlesdown are negotiating a contract with Prospects Education Services to provide primary specialist support.

We note that in 2012 Riddlesdown’s percentage of pupils achieving 5+ A*-C including English and maths fell by 10% compared to the previous year and they face a number of challenges of their own.

We understand concerns have been raised by parents about the implications of Harris sponsoring Roke and if this will affect Riddlesdown’s ability to recruit Roke pupils in the future. We would like to make it clear that it would not be necessary for Riddlesdown to review its admission arrangements to accommodate pupils from Roke. There is no reason why Riddlesdown cannot continue to recruit pupils from Roke should the latter become a sponsored Academy.

We recognise the importance of formal local consultation and this is a legal requirement before any school can open as an Academy. The formal consultation is usually started when the proposed sponsor has been identified by the Department, the governing body has met with, and agreed to be sponsored by this sponsor, and the proposal has been given Ministerial approval to be taken forward. From experience, consultation is most meaningful when the proposed sponsor, rather than the Department, is involved in the process as they are able to set out the specific benefits their involvement will bring to the school.

I would like to end by saying that I am happy to accept your invitation to meet and discuss my decision if you would like to do so. Please could someone contact my Diary Secretary, Cassandra Flavius, on to arrange a mutually convenient time.


Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Schools

NOTE: Nash was created a peer at the beginning of the year. He and his wife Caroline have donated a total of £182,000 to the Conservative party since 2006.

He probably needs a little education in the correct way for a life peer to be addressed. “Lord John Nash” would be correct if he was the second son of an earl or another inherited title. But he is not. The correct form of address is “Lord Nash”, or maybe “John” to his friends, of which we suggest that there will be few in Kenley.

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1 Response to Nash letter dashes hopes for Roke to escape Harris

  1. This is anti-democratic. The DfE is simply not interested in doing the right thing for the people.

    The pivotal point is the urgency apparently needed. Urgent for whom? The school was and is back on track – the Jan Ofsted inspection was not a full inspection and therefore cannot give a clear view on progress, certainly not on the long-term prospects.

    This typifies political self-interest flagrantly interfering with local needs with no transparency. When Nash and Harris are heavy party donors, transparency should be MANDATORY!

    A sad day, but hopefully not the end.

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