No primary school academy in Lewisham!

Submitted by Matthew on 9 June, 2011 - 12:42

Leila Galloway from “Deptford Says No to Tidemill Academy” spoke to Duncan Morrison.

My parents are both educationalists and I work as a senior lecturer in higher education. I have been doing a post-graduate course in Philosophy at Middlesex University and was involved in the campaign to stop the closure of the Philosophy department there. I have two daughters — eight and eleven years old — at Tidemill.

I think it is morally wrong to privatise education and a huge social experiment. What we see now is the increasing commodification of education.

When Mark Elms, the head of Tidemill, had been discussing becoming a community school, a couple of years ago, I was quite interested in that idea, and I had discussed community education and shared good practice from the Reggio Emilia approach to primary education in Italy. I can see now that he didn’t have the same vision.

Last summer all the parents received a letter saying that the school was going for academy status, that they were going to consult over the summer holidays and then there would be a one hour meeting to get parents’ views. It was a total kick in the teeth.

The first thing I did was phoned the Anti-Academies Alliance; with their help I got a leaflet and handed it out at the gate. I spent the whole of the summer writing letters to the school, the council and to Joan Ruddock (the local MP). We launched a petition which in the end got nearly 800 signatures including 147 from parents of children at the school; we created a website and started tweeting.

We organised a meeting in the summer and invited Mark Elms and the Chair of the Governors, Keith Geary. Mark Elms took down the posters for the meeting and actively encouraged parents not to attend. We organised stalls every Wednesday and Saturday and leafleted all the time. I also had a meeting with Joan Ruddock and asked a question at council question time. Joan Ruddock asked the school to organise a proper consultation meeting and the council confirmed that it was necessary for the school to run a full consultation. The council hadn’t even been aware of the schools decision to go for academy status prior to the letter going to parents.

When the school held their first meeting at the end of the summer, I asked a question and Elms just went for me. Everyone said, “Why is he so angry with you?” It reflected badly on him and made people wonder why he was so aggressive. He offered very thin stuff. He talked about “freedom for creative curriculum” but actually this just meant administrative freedom such as to move the term dates, nothing relating to what our children were being taught. He kept talking about the “ready–reckoner”, of the money per child that the school would receive. Money seemed to be the only clear explanation given and I saw no educational benefit to my children. However, it turned out that he got his sums wrong.

The Senior Leadership team then wrote a letter to every parent in the school denouncing the anti-academies campaign and trying to make out it was an outside campaign. Whereas it was a very well supported parent and local campaign.

The governors at their December meeting voted to go for academy status. Throughout the process I had insisted on getting everything in writing. We made a legal challenge. The solicitor’s main objections were:

“1. The school failed to comply with its public sector equality duties: a legal binding requirement.

“2. The decision was taken on the basis of, and having considered, misleading and/or incorrect financial information and/or without proper steps being taken to obtain the information that was required properly to inform the decision. One glaring example was that the school estimated it would cost them £60,000 to pay for additional services normally provided by the LEA when in fact the DfE’s estimate was £78,000 and the LEA estimated the figure to be in excess of £229,000.

“3. The decision was taken in the light of a consultation process in which the information presented to consultees was misleading or incorrect.

“4. The decision was taken on a misunderstanding as to the basis on which parental views had been obtained.”

We never received any response from the school to these four points. The school however withdrew its application on 21 January 2011.

There had been a space on the parent governors since September and we finally forced them to hold an election in April. Paulo Sanhueza won on an anti-academy platform.

Despite it all on 4 May the governors again voted to convert to an academy. We are currently hopefully that Joan Ruddock will write to Michael Gove to ask for him not to sign-off on the application (due soon).

Our situation in the campaign has been helped because last year’s furore in the national press about Mark Elms’s salary, which was larger than the Prime Ministers. The issue of the salary meant a lot of local people were interested in discussing what was happening at the school and open to supporting the campaign. The school is also due to move in to the new “Deptford Lounge” buildings, which are council buildings; many people felt why should the school get our buildings if they want to go off on their own.

The Labour Council and MP have both been supportive of the campaign in the end, it took them a little while to get behind it. Initially, in the aftermath of Labour’s defeat in the General Election, it didn’t seem as though they knew what their policy was, having previously supported academies..

The campaign has been a success in that it has informed the parents and mobilised the local community and I suspect it has made other schools in Lewisham and Deptford, and maybe beyond, think twice about applying for academy status.

I would like to have involved more parents from the off but we were hampered by the campaign starting over the summer holidays. We would like to have got more support from the teachers in the school but they are mainly young teachers, fearful for their jobs and unwilling to put their heads over the parapet. But Lewisham NUT has been very supportive throughout the campaign.

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