Parents and guardians of children at South Norwood Primary received the dread note of execution for their school yesterday.
John Phillipson, the chairman of the interim executive board (IEB), has already overseen the forcible academisation of one Croydon primary school – Oval.
Now, he is driving the Department for Education’s juggernaut in top gear at South Norwood.
As Inside Croydon reported earlier this month, parents at the school felt that they and their children had been treated in a “disrespectful, insensitive and immoral” manner by the IEB, which had been imposed on the school earlier this year by Nicky Morgan, the Tory Education Secretary. The interim governors, led by Phillipson, forced out the long-time headteacher who was “the heart and the soul of our school” on the last day before the half-term holiday.
Morgan took to the airwaves today to announce that she would be pushing ever more state schools into the hands of private academy sponsors, claiming that this would force schools to improve standards, rather than allow them to “coast”. In the case of South Norwood Primary, it was rated as “good” at its last Ofsted inspection.
Clearly, under Morgan’s dogma, “good” is just not good enough, especially if she has an academy sponsor eagerly waiting in the wings wanting to take over the school. Some academy sponsors turn out to be very supportive of the Conservative Party, and by a staggering coincidence one academy sponsor is headed by a Tory peer. And meanwhile, there is an exodus from the teaching profession of senior, experienced and excellent staff, who have had enough of the shibboleths handed down from Whitehall.
With barely a fortnight of South Norwood’s school year left, the latest Phillipson letter went out last night “consulting” parents with a questionnaire which has to be returned by this Friday. No rush then.
With an appalling use of a split infinitive, Phillipson wrote: “Your answers to the questions… will help the IEB to better identify the most appropriate academy sponsor for South Norwood Primary School.”
There’s no question that South Norwood will be academised – whether the parents of children at the school want it or not. For Phillipson, the deed is done, it is just a matter of which academy sponsor will be in charge when the school gates re-open in September.
Meanwhile, the constituency MP, Steve Reed OBE, local ward councillors, including Labour’s council leader Tony Newman, and the cabinet member responsible for Croydon’s schools, have made barely a whimper on the issue of this latest forcible academisation of one of their local authority’s schools.
Phillipson is the chairman of governors at St John’s Primary in Shirley, a voluntary-aided church school, and therefore probably – for now – safe from the claws of any academy.
South Norwood Primary doesn’t have a church-backed guardian angel watching over it. Instead, it has an IEB which appears to be prejudiced against the school remaining in local authority control, as preferred by most parents. Indeed, some might suggest that by its very imposition, and its decision to push out a long-serving and respected head teacher, the IEB has caused instability at the school which has set it up to fail.
Yesterday, in his letter to parents at South Norwood, Phillipson wrote: “At both of our recent meetings with parents, we explained that we would now be considering the future status of the school in terms of securing stability and ensuring the most sustained improvements in the children’s education. The school at present has the choice of remaining as a local authority community school or seeking an academy sponsor…
“… As an IEB we have to look also at how the children achieve and progress throughout their time at the school. This is a key factor for all of us and is also how Ofsted makes its judgements.
“If the school has the capacity to at least secure it current Ofsted category of ‘good’ it would enable the IEB to consider a range of options, including remaining as a local authority community school or a choice [Phillipson’s italics] of which academy sponsor we may wish to work with.”
Phillipson then goes on to explain the Government’s “Floor Targets”, and the consequences for failing to meet such targets. According to Phillipson, the school’s 2014 data showed it missing all four targets.
He also pointed out that a Department for Education official had attended the most recent meeting with parents, last Friday, and warned that if there was to be an Ofsted inspection, it would likely categorise South Norwood as “requires improvement” or even “inadequate”. According to Phillipson, it is a view shared by the local authority.
Others have noted before the high frequency of previously “good” schools which suddenly become “inadequate” as soon as the DfE has a Tory Party donor or other friendly academy sponsor lined up to take over the school.
As far as South Norwood Primary parents are concerned, Phillipson’s letter is telling them to jump now, before they are pushed.
“The IEB has agreed that it is in the school’s best interest to academise and will now seek to identify an academy sponsor that both reflects the ethos at South Norwood and is able to demonstrate the ability to bring about rapid improvement… Making this initial decision and going into the process as a ‘good’ school secures our ability to choose our sponsor. Avoiding this difficult decision would add to the uncertainty facing the school and risks removing any local choice…”
As if there was any local choice at all.
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