Hundreds of parents express fears over ‘rushed’ decision making on primary school’s future
PUBLISHED: 07:00 02 September 2019
A Limehouse primary school could be about to switch to academy status despite objections and complaints the move was a “done deal”.
Parents and staff at Cyril Jackson Primary School were informed of the proposal in mid-June, shortly before the summer holidays.
The 460-pupil school in Limehouse Causeway received an Outstanding report in its last Ofsted inspection but governors have insisted there are advantages to a takeover.
They proposed that the school, which is currently managed by Tower Hamlets Council, be taken over by east London-based University Schools Trust (UST).
The headteacher of Cyril Jackson, Gillian Kemp, has been a paid employee of UST since 2016 - first as its director of education, and now as co-chief executive.
It has also emerged that UST abruptly changed its registered office address to Cyril Jackson's address in May.
An official consultation ran from June 18 to July 12 but some 208 current parents have signed a petition asking for it to be extended into the autumn term.
They wrote: "We believe the proposal is a serious decision that should not be rushed, and that all parties should be fully aware of the possible risks and implications.
"We do not believe that we are being given enough time or information to allow for a fair and meaningful consultation."
The school held seven parent and staff meetings between June 18 and July 5. A parent who attended two, who asked not to be named, said: "We were presented with a positive case for academisation and a positive case for UST.
"It's a foregone conclusion. It was presented as one. We were given the option to register our views, but it was never suggested that we might be able to change the view of the board or prevent it.
"Taking a school out of the public sector and giving it to a private firm, albeit a not-for-profit one, reduces the democratic accountability of the school."
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Parents also asked for another meeting with speakers both for and against the proposal, and for a secret ballot to be held. Neither took place.
Academies are bound by the same laws as local authority-maintained schools and have the same duty to provide free education to local children.
The National Education Union has also been engaged and it is understood that all staff at Cyril Jackson are to retain their current terms and conditions.
On July 12 Cllr James King, the Labour councillor for Limehouse, wrote to the governors and said he had flagged up concerns with the Department for Education.
He said: "I fear that the decision to convert Cyril Jackson into an academy has already been made.
"There is a conflict of interest here and I question whether the decision is being made for the benefit of UST rather than the pupils."
Governors have said that due to local authority cuts and the cancellation of a number of non-statutory support services a "do nothing" scenario is impossible.
Tower Hamlets Council is reportedly set to launch a consultation on the future of several primary schools in the borough over the autumn term.
In addition to added security, the Cyril Jackson governors said, joining UST instead would allow the school to develop a wider curriculum.
In a consultation document, they added there were "efficiencies to be gained by procuring goods and services across the trust" - including HR, health and safety and ICT support.
If Cyril Jackson becomes an academy it will also receive a £25,000 grant from the government to support the conversion process.
A decision regarding the future trajectory of the school is set to be published in early September.
Ms Kemp told the Advertiser: "I would like to confirm that the governors of the school followed all statutory procedures and processes.
"The governors and I have always put the children and families at the heart of all our decisions, including the decision to put forward the academy consultation."