Downhills loses the fight as academies move in

23rd March 2012 at 00:00
Haringey faces a domino effect of primaries changing status

The break-up of the local authority system in Haringey, North London, was this week fully under way as academy chains moved into the borough.

It has emerged that not only is the Harris Federation planning to take on Downhills Primary School, but it also has plans for another school in the area. Meanwhile, the Academies Enterprise Trust (AET) is looking to take over two more.

The four primaries - Downhills, Coleraine Park, Noel Park and Nightingale - were told by the Department for Education last year that they were potential academies after years of low results and recent Ofsted reports labelling them inadequate. Six other schools in the borough are also firmly in ministers' sights.

These changes form part of an official policy backed by Michael Gove, the education secretary, of enforced conversion of the country's 200 worst-performing primaries into academies.

Two of those at the front of the queue in Haringey, Downhills and Nightingale, are now being run by Interim Executive Boards appointed by the DfE, after their existing governors were fired.

Downhills, a 450-pupil school in Tottenham, fought the decision, saying it could improve without becoming an academy. A campaign was launched, bringing on board local MP and former pupil David Lammy. The governors even threatened to sue Mr Gove if the school was forced to agree an academy sponsor while still awaiting reinspection by Ofsted. But a reinspection found the school inadequate and the head, Leslie Church, resigned.

As part of the campaign, the governing body ran a consultation on academy status. Roger Sahota, one of the deposed governors, claimed that the results were emphatic. "We conducted a ballot in the aftermath of the head's resignation. We found 147 against academy status, 14 for and five didn't know," he said.

But the battle seems to be over. Alan Stanton, a Labour councillor for Tottenham who is now a governor at Coleraine Park, said: "It is not that people had closed minds...but that they wanted time and information to make a sensible decision.

"We want to be treated like grown-ups, not 5-year-olds. The whole process has been criticised and there's a really serious question about whether we are treating children as guinea pigs.

Haringey has 63 primary schools and ranks at 121 out of 149 local authorities in the league tables, with 71 per cent of pupils getting the expected level in English and maths - the joint lowest in London along with Barking and Dagenham.

The local authority itself has identified 19 primaries as requiring intensive support, but in a letter to the education secretary last term pointed out that it was not convinced that academy status was always the answer and that it could be disruptive.

Council leader Claire Kober said in an open letter to parents last week that, in response to Mr Gove's intervention, Haringey would be launching a commission to recommend improvements by the end of the year. TES Editor Gerard Kelly is one of the four commissioners; the others are Sir Jim Rose, who carried out reviews of the teaching of reading and the primary curriculum for the Labour government, Dame Anna Hassan, former head of Millfields Community School in Hackney, and Graham Badman, chair of Haringey's Local Safeguarding Children Board.

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