Parents’ anger at “immoral” departure of admired school head

Parents at a Croydon primary are angry that they and their children have been treated in a “disrespectful, insensitive and immoral” manner by a interim board of governors, imposed on the school by the Tory Education Secretary, and which then forced out the long-time headteacher who was “the heart and the soul of our school”.

South Norwood Primary: soon to be in the hands of a private academy organisation

South Norwood Primary: soon to be in the hands of an academy

It’s Groundhog Day at South Norwood Primary.

Much like what happened at Roke and Oval primaries, two other Croydon schools to undergo a forced academisation, an interim board of governors saw to it that, on the final day before the school broke up for half-term, South Norwood Primary’s popular headteacher Della Williams parted company with staff and pupils. There were tears in the playground. Stunned parents then had to wait for a fortnight before being informed of the inevitable, that academy status would be sought for the school.

Croydon’s local education authority, now under the control of a Labour group supposedly opposed to the handing over of public property – the school – to be run by private academy organisations, has thus far been silent on the issue, leaving parents feeling let down.

Parents who have contacted Inside Croydon have asked not to be named, for fear of any action against them or their children. But they said, “We are feeling shocked and upset after our headteacher was forced out of her post.

“Della Williams was widely respected and liked by parents for her open and approachable style, which saw her out on the playground before the start of the school day almost every morning, engaging with children and parents.”

In a move which appears to come straight from Chapter 1 of the Playbook for the Academisation of State Schools (available in all bad bookshops), Williams’ abrupt departure came on the final day before a school holiday, making any immediate response from parents impossible.

Della Williams: "the life and soul of the school", according to parents at South Norwood Primary

Della Williams: “the heart and soul of the school”

Williams had worked at South Norwood for more than eight years and had overseen consistent improvements in the school, and its pupils’, performance.

“The headteacher’s relentless drive and high expectations ensure a positive trend of school improvement,” Ofsted inspectors reported when they last visited the school, in 2012, and rated South Norwood as “Good”.

Which makes the latest moves all the more remarkable, even by the standards of the forcible academisations previously seen in Croydon.

An interim executive board, or IEB, replaced the governors of the school in January. It was imposed by the Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan, who was dissatisfied with the handling of an investigation into some Maths SATs tests conducted by the school in 2013.

When appointed, the IEB undertook to meet with parents to “reassure” them. That first meeting with the IEB eventually took place last Friday, nearly six months after the IEB had been imposed and more than two weeks after headteacher Williams had exited the school gates for a final time on May 22.

“We were stunned when on the last day of the half term, our children were sent home with letters informing them of Mrs Williams’s sudden departure,” the South Norwood parents said. “She was the heart and soul of our school

“Children and staff were in tears and parents were angry and upset.”

The school’s website now has a blank page where the school governors used to feature. And the “leadership” page is also now blank.

The chair of the IEB, John Phillipson, sent out a letter to parents on June 1 offering a meeting on June 5 at 6pm.

Phillipson has some “form” in this respect. He is the chair of governors at another Croydon primary, but four years ago he chaired the IEB which was imposed upon Oval Primary, to tee-up that school for forced academisation. He gave that school’s parents short notice of meetings, too.

South Norwood parents complained about the short notice and timing of the meeting. Nevertheless, the meeting was well-attended and it was told that the investigation into the maladministration of SATs was closed (but not concluded) and that therefore this and Williams’s departure could not be discussed.

Phillipson announced to the meeting that it was the IEB’s intention to explore academisation. There were no gasps of astonishment.

But Parents have reacted with hostility to the decision, claiming that the handling of the headteacher’s departure was “disrespectful, insensitive and immoral”.

They told Inside Croydon: “We have challenged the lack of transparency in the process and demanded Phillipson share the findings regarding the maladministration of SATs with the school community. Others want minutes of the IEB meetings and information regarding its members’ pecuniary interests – a register of which all governing bodies must have.

Alisa Flemming: Croydon's cabinet member for schools. South Norwood parents feel let down by Croydon

Alisa Flemming: Croydon’s cabinet member for schools. South Norwood parents feel let down

“We’re confused as to why, if the SATs investigation is complete, normal governance could not be resumed. Prior to the IEB being in place, South Norwood Primary had a governing body of 15 people, comprising staff, parents, local authority and community governors. The school is presently being managed by four people.

“Many feel that the imposition of the IEB is undemocratic and unrepresentative, and deliberately so, in order that it can steer the school in a direction that bears no relation to the children’s needs, but is instead motivated by the academisation agenda and political manoeuvring by politicians and academy chains.

“There is not a single black or ethnic minority member on the board, even though the school is incredibly diverse.

“The school has a greater percentage of children with special needs and who qualify for free school meals than the national average and prides itself on its ethos ‘we work together to succeed’.

“Central Government’s academisation agenda is controversial and the evidence that academies work is patchy. South Norwood Primary School is in an interesting and perhaps precedent-setting position in that it is not a failing school. Nearly half of sponsored academies are ‘inadequate’ or ‘require improvement’; therefore the argument that turning South Norwood Primary into an academy will improve its performance is highly questionable.”

The local councillors are Labour’s Kathy Bee, Wayne Lawlor, this year’s deputy mayor, and Jane Avis. Alisa Flemming, a councillor in nearby Upper Norwood, is the Labour cabinet member responsible for education in the borough.

“Parents and children feel disappointed and let-down by Croydon, as our local authority. They are sad and angry that they did not have the opportunity to say goodbye and thank you to a wonderful headteacher whose commitment, experience, compassion and care have made their school what it is today.

“We hope Mrs Williams is reading this and knows how much she is admired and appreciated.”

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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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4 Responses to Parents’ anger at “immoral” departure of admired school head

  1. It’s all very subtle, isn’t it? Tony Blair got Labour back into power by calling it New Labour when all the time it was Conservative Light. Most people swallowed the nostrum without even noticing.

    Now it looks like that is what the local Labour Party is doing in lovely Croydon. There’s not really a cigarette paper’s worth of difference between them and the previous incumbents. They are all following roughly the same policies and moving in the same direction: privatisation of schools, for that it what it really is. Academies are not allowed to be run for a profit… yet! Wait, vainglorious grandiose projects which inflate the egos of legislators and promise the crumbs of great wealth for the peasants not at the top table (sometimes called regeneration), slavish obedience to the wills of the big multinationals and developers (also called improving the infrastructure or, more accurately, buggering up what is a pretty reasonable tramway system so as accommodate the needs of a monstrous and outdated at birth retail development) and so on.

    Come election time Tony Soprano and his Gang will be able to say, “Look what Labour did!”, also known as exactly what the Tories would have done, and get re-elected.

    A few years later the good but by now impoverished citizens of the borough, faced with a decrepit local infrastructure and burdened by another useless, cash-hungry black hole (the first was Minerva’s St George’s Walk) and inefficient trams will realise that the Emperor was naked and re-elect the other lot.

    And then the whole cycle will start again because no one who wants to be elected actually cares about the community and the people who live in it.

    That should be where things start….making a vibrant community for local folks. What the local politicians and administrators do is take as their models the arse-end of American and Australian mega-cities rather than the smaller scale, people-orientated success of places like Tooting, Balham, Berkhamsted and St Albans, all finer places to live, communities vibrant and exciting.

  2. What else is new ? The academy game is the only one in town. Been there and worn the T-shirt. It’s part of this government’s drive to abolish any form of local accountability. All Croydon secondary schools are now outside the Council’s control but there are still some Primaries which have not got the message. So, failing or not, you just force them to acadamise. If the parents don’t like it, tough luck. No good appealing to the Council: in the past they have been complicit.

  3. The school sits in the Woodside Ward. Local councillors are: Paul Scott, Hamida Ali and Tony Newman.

    Given the Conservative Government’s commitment to Academisation of schools, perhaps there is not a great deal the Council can do; however, a public statement is the very least. Over to you, Cllr Flemming!

  4. So we understand, though the catchment straddles both wards.

    So that’s six Labour ward councillors, and a cabinet member, silent on an issue affecting the interests of local residents.

    And this is not the first time Woodside ward appears less well-served by having the council leader among their ward councillors.

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