Anger at academy plan for primary school

BY TOBY PORTER
toby@slpmedia.co.uk

Staff and parents have reacted with fury to a school’s plans to become part of a cross-borough academy

They are now threatening to mount a campaign against the move by Childeric Primary School in New Cross two years after a successful one to stop Prendergast schools from opting out of town hall control.

Headteacher Ann Butcher and the governors have formally notified the unions that they want to consult on joining John Donne and Goose Green schools – both in Southwark – in a multi-academy trust called Communitas.

Ann Butcher, headteacher at Childeric Primary School, said: “We are considering seeking academy status but no decision has been made on this yet.”

The National Education Union (formerly the NUT) and GMB, the union representing schools support staff, are calling for the governing body and head teacher to think again about converting the school to an academy. They say academisation could set a dangerous precedent for Lewisham’s schools and raise concerns around staff terms and conditions and the ability of parents to hold the school accountable.

The unions are set to mount a joint campaign to send a strong message to the school that academisation is not welcome in Lewisham.

Duncan Morrison, assistant divisional secretary of Lewisham NEU, said: “Communitas is run by people whose only experience is in business, not teaching.

“There is no appetite for academies in Lewisham and parents of children at academies are unhappy about what goes on.

“We are extremely disappointed to see that Childeric is seeking to become one of the tiny few primary schools in Lewisham to pull away from the local authority.

“The NEU has done extensive research into the impact of academisation on our members’ jobs and the figures don’t look great – members report increases in bullying and a driving down of terms and conditions in academy schools.

“We believe this sets a dangerous precedent for other Lewisham schools in a borough which has so far resisted the drive to convert schools to academies.

“There is no evidence academies improve education of their pupils. What academisation does is remove local accountability from the hands of the parents.

“We’ve all seen the stories of misspent funds, nepotism, privatisation and eye wateringly high management wages that have become synonymous with academy schools.

“They can pick and choose children, and treat staff how they like.

“Quite frankly, the people of Lewisham expect better from schools – and rightly so.”

Barbara Plant, education convenor of Lewisham GMB branch, said: “It’s unfortunate that the school has decided to make a start on heading down the route of academisation. We are specifically concerned with the impact on our members’ terms and conditions – particularly as the other schools in the Trust follow a different pay structure for support staff.

“We don’t yet understand the rationale behind the decision. Childeric is a good school with strong leadership.

“The GMB doesn’t see the logic of diverting resources away from the running of the school to undertake a lengthy consultation on something that the union does not believe will benefit staff, the children, the parents or the wider community. There is no evidence that academies improve children’s education and that has to be the bottom line for making a decision of this nature.”

Protests and a campaign helped anti-academy campaigners claim a major victory in 2015 after governors decided to end the conversion process of three Lewisham schools – Prendergast School in Hilly Fields, and Prendergast Ladywell School and Prendergast Vale School in Lewisham. A string of demonstrations, strikes and meetings forced the Leathersellers’ Federation of Schools’ governors to think again.

The other school whose status is ambiguous is Sedgehill School, in Sydenham, which since September has been run by the United Learning Group. It has applied for academy status but has so far not been granted it by the Department for Education because a sponsor cannot be found.

The GMB and NEU are to stage a public meeting to kick off the campaign against Childeric becoming an academy, at New Cross Learning Centre, New Cross Road, on January 30 at 7.30pm.

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