Downhills Primary School, in Tottenham, North London, is fighting a strong community campaign against attempts to turn it into a sponsored academy.
Participation in the campaign has been huge. “I haven’t seen anything like it since the eighties,” said one mother looking at a packed meeting of over 600 people.
In January, more than a thousand people marched through Tottenham in support of the four Haringey primaries which are under threat of being handed over to academy sponsors, including teachers from all over London. They have shown support to other schools across the country which are rejecting academy status.
Parents, carers, teachers and governors at the school say that they are up against a system which is highly undemocratic. They were shocked at an unexpectedly harsh judgement that they were “inadequate'”by Ofsted, though recognise that this inspection, rushed through on the request of education minister Michael Gove, was a highly political one.
Parents have been doing their own research into sponsored academies, especially the big chains like Harris and AET which are set to take over primary schools in Haringey after an alarmingly brief and non-transparent procurement process.
These chains have little or no experience at overseeing primaries and very unimpressive rates of improvement in secondary schools. Harris in particular has a very high level of informal exclusions (or “managing out” of certain children, particularly those with special educational needs) and difficulties recruiting and retaining teachers as they are treated them so badly.
Harris academies also use excessive amounts of “vocational equivalents” alongside their GCSE students. When these are removed, their results drop dramatically to reveal very poor performance overall.
Information obtained from a recent freedom of information request for correspondence between the DfE and Haringey council has greatly angered and alarmed parents and others in the local community.
It is now evident that, unlike other local authorities which took steps to protect their schools from the bullying tactics of the Department for Education (DfE), Haringey used schools as bargaining chips.
Two were given to the DfE in exchange for the DfE not reducing a certain grant. Other Haringey schools were given over within a few weeks of Ofsted visiting and in one case while Ofsted findings were in the midst of being challenged and were still supposed to be confidential.
Michael Gove has dubbed these ordinary mums, dads and carers "enemies of promise,” saying that they are "happy with failure."
Local parents are stunned by this, as it's an extraordinary statement that parents might want their children to attend a poor school — they argue it's because of the poor track record of academy chains and wish for their children to attend a decent, inclusive, local community school that they oppose forced academy status.
The push for academies isn’t about improving schools, it’s about a stealthy privatisation and giving management free rein over the people who work in them and study in them.
For a greater sense of the depth and breath of the feeling amongst the school community, watch the “Save Our School” song written and performed by Downhills children and those in their community.