Readers of a nervous disposition should look away now. The following article contains flashing lights and some robust English language and may not be suitable for those under the age of about 12. Or Michael Gove.
If further proof were needed that the sham “consultation” on the academisation of Kenley’s Roke Primary was an utter crock of shit, it appeared on page 54 of Friday’s edition of the Times Education Supplement.
Friday was the deadline for submissions in the consultation process set up by Michael Gove’s Department for Education. To any fair-minded person, a public consultation on a matter of public interest, especially something as important as children’s futures, ought ordinarily to be run by a dispassionate, unconnected third-party.
This DfE consultation is being run by the Harris Federation.
Harris is the academy operation, set up by one of the Tory party’s biggest donors. Harris is the organisation which the DfE nominated – long before any consultation and against the wishes of the vast majority of Roke Primary parents, governors and staff – as its “preferred” sponsor of an academy at Roke.
Roke, it is worth repeating, is a primary school with a decade of exemplary achievement by its pupils, and staff, and just one blot on its Ofsted report copybook.
But on Friday, the deadline day for the consultation being run by Harris, there, in black and white in the TES, was an advertisement for a new head teacher at Roke. The ad was placed by the Harris Federation.
Yet again, it seems that Gove, possibly the most reviled education secretary this country has had since “Thatcher the Milk-snatcher” (and no, Michael, that’s not a compliment – not even a back-handed one), is bulldozing his way over parents, teachers, educationalists, the local authority, even the local Tory MP, all because he thinks that he knows best.
Today, Ofsted inspectors began a return visit to Roke. It is unclear where such a repeat inspection, so soon after a previous visit, stands legally, but members of the Save Roke Campaign fear it is just the latest manifestation of a conspiracy by the Whitehall department to smooth the way for Harris to takeover a decent primary school – all built and paid for by the state – and turn it into a feeder for Harris’s less-than-impressive secondary academy that was formerly known as Haling Manor.
The first week of summer term was already a difficult one for Roke, with a new “executive head teacher”, Christine Barry, issuing a letter to parents last Tuesday, stating that the head, Caroline Phillips, was “absent due to ill-health and unfortunately, she will not be returning this term”.
Somewhat embarrassingly for Barry’s new regime, that information had to be hurriedly “updated” in a letter from the chairman of governors, Malcolm Farquharson, just a day later which stated that Phillips, the school’s head for nearly four years, had opted to resign. Within 48 hours, her job was being advertised nationally by Harris.
The issuing of contradictory information inevitably raised speculation at the school gates about the real reasons behind Phillips’ departure, and whether she was being forced out.
In a statement to Inside Croydon, the Save Roke Campaign said that the chain of events in the past week had given “parents little confidence that the outcome of the consultation is not a done deal”.
They said, “The whole consultation has been branded ‘fake’ by many Roke parents. A school-run poll of parents showed that 83 per cent wanted our local secondary school rather than the Harris Federation to sponsor Roke. Only 18 per cent felt that we should become an academy at all.”
Even the Croydon South MP, Richard Ottaway, a man not known for breaking Conservative party ranks, has been moved to speak out against the railroading of the local community by the DfE’s proposals favouring Harris.
Despite Roke’s first and only “notice to improve” from Ofsted last June, the school “soon turned its fortunes around to rank in the top 20 per cent of Croydon schools”, Ottaway noted in a column for the local newspaper.
Ottaway pointed out that Riddlesdown Collegiate, the nearby secondary, had played a role in this, and that 70 per cent of Roke’s pupils have tended to choose to go to “the top-performing” Riddlesdown in previous years.
“For this reason, I believe Roke’s future lies with Riddlesdown as an academy sponsor,” Ottaway stated. This view chimes with the preference of the majority of Roke parents and staff.
But that now seems a very remote possibility, with Lord Nash, a Gove appointee as schools minister (and another generous donor to the Tory party), having pre-judged the matter, and with Harris running the consultation and advertising for a head teacher.
For once, it seems, Ottaway has actually taken a stand with the views of his constituents. Referring to his Conservative-led government’s application of an academies policy introduced under the previous Labour administration, Ottaway wrote: “I worry Roke is at risk of becoming a victim of an overzealous application of this vision.” In the words of Dr John Watson: No shit Sherlock!
Highlighting Harris’s weak record with primary schools (its record with secondaries is pretty flaky, too), Ottaway concluded: “Education is not a monopoly and it isn’t a case of one-size-fits-all. The outcome for Roke will not only impact upon the quality of schooling for generations of youngsters but also, crucially, the fabric of our local educational community.”
- Highly objectionable: Roke parents lodge academy complaints
- Roke parents in legal challenge against “dictator” Gove
- Roke and a tale of “threats, bribes and fake consultations”
- Gove will tear us apart: the challenge facing Roke Primary
- Inside Croydon: For comment and analysis about Croydon, from inside Croydon
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- With threats and bribes, Gove forces schools to accept his phoney ‘freedom’ | George Monbiot (guardian.co.uk)