Opt-out threat in Blair's backyard

8th March 1996 at 00:00
Parents and governors at a London primary school are threatening to opt out, a move which would create the first grant-maintained school in Labour leader Tony Blair's home borough of Islington.

They are furious about the council's plans to amalgamate Canonbury infant and junior schools. They say the move has been made against the wishes of parents, and they fear it will lower standards. Labour-controlled Islington has one of the worst educational records in the country.

Toni Williamson, whose six-year-old daughter Scarlett attends the infants' school, said: "Despite a petition of 449 signatures, nearly 100 individual letters and considered opposition from governors, parents and teachers, the council has refused to take their views into consideration."

According to Ms Williamson, Islington officials have said amalgamation need not go ahead if parents do not want it, but the money for a second, junior head's post will go when the present head retires this summer.

Canonbury infant and junior schools were among the best in Islington, but a merger would threaten standards by creating one of the borough's biggest schools, with around 450 pupils, she said.

"Most parents think the reason the schools are so good is because they have separate headteachers, whom the children always have ready access to. If someone is having to run the whole school that won't be the case. Why change a formula that clearly works?" she added.

Tom Sorell, a co-opted governor at Canonbury, said governors were only considering opting out because of the amalgamation threat. Previously, when the issue of grant-maintained status had arisen it had been voted down. Now, however, they had decided to investigate the matter - to be debated at the next full governors' meeting on March 28 - more seriously.

"The way the council has handled this situation is extremely annoying, especially since we've tried by every informal means possible to reach a compromise," he said.

Helen Fenwick , head of Canonbury infants' school, said: "Given the parental opposition, I think the authority should look seriously again at the matter. I don't think it would be particularly easy to amalgamate the schools."

Phil Kelly, chair of Islington's education committee, denied the council was trying to force amalgamation, but said it was unfair for Canonbury to get extra funding for two headteachers.

The council had listened to parents' objections, said Mr Kelly and would allow Canonbury junior school to appoint a new headteacher, but was not prepared to pay his or her salary.

"I'm absolutely clear we've made a major concession to parents. In previous years they wouldn't have been allowed a consultation process. They would have been told what to do," he said.

The fact the two-department school had worked well in the past did not mean it would in future. There was a severe shortage of good heads in the inner-city borough and candidates had to be offered a proper job.

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