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Parents cry foul over fresh 'conflict of interest' in school's academy plans

PUBLISHED: 12:00 21 October 2019

Cyril Jackson Primary School in Limehouse Causeway. Picture: Google Streetview

Cyril Jackson Primary School in Limehouse Causeway. Picture: Google Streetview

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The headteacher of a primary school controversially poised to become an academy has quit - to take on a paid role at its would-be new owner.

The headteacher of a primary school controversially poised to become an academy has quit - to take on a paid role at its would-be new owner.

Parents at Cyril Jackson Primary School penned a furious letter to governors this week about the move, which they say proves a conflict of interest.

The school in Limehouse consulted parents and staff for just three weeks in June over the decision, which would see it permanently removed from local authority control.

Headteacher Gill Kemp already held a paid position as co-chief executive at the preferred candidate for a takeover, University Schools Trust.

Now, she has resigned outright as headteacher to become the trust's full-time CEO after a "competitive and rigorous selection process".

In a recent announcement to parents she wrote: "My decision to undertake this position is tinged with great sadness.

"It has been a privilege to lead the school over the past 15 years and I am hugely proud of what has been achieved and the amazing team who made it happen."

A total of 220 parents and carers have now signed a petition against the plans to convert the school.

Ten have formally complained to the governors and plan to go to the Department for Education and Tower Hamlets Council.

Governors voted in favour of the plans in September and are now going through a due diligence process with UST.

One of the school's parent governors, Rani Begum, is also a paid employee of UST working at St Paul's Way Trust School in Bow Common.

Neither parents nor the Advertiser could establish whether Mrs Kemp and/or Ms Begum were allowed to take part in the vote.

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Parents wrote: "They should not have been able to take part in this ballot because of their conflict of interests; if they did, the result should be declared void.

"Mrs Kemp was the leading advocate for UST academy conversion at the parent consultations. These were wholly one-sided in their presentation of the positive case for conversion."

They also alleged a "worrying lack of transparency" as a second multi-academy trust, Drapers', was mentioned during the consultation.

At a meeting on June 19, Ms Kemp told parents the school "had linked with the Drapers' Company who had a history of supporting schools in areas of high deprivation."

It was not mentioned to parents that according to company records, she is also Director of Education at Drapers.

Parents also questioned if there was enough evidence yet that UST would manage the school as well as it already had been.

Only one of UST's other schools, Royal Greenwich Trust School, has had an Ofsted inspection since conversion - and received Requires Improvement grade from the regulator. Cyril Jackson is currently rated Oustanding.

Cllr James King, who represents Limehouse ward for Tower Hamlets Council, said the academisation process had been "a mess".

He added: "It would be ridiculous for an academisation process to be started under one head and ended under another.

"Conflicts of interest have riddled the whole process. If the governing body are so keen to go down the academy route they should start the whole process again with a frank and transparent discussion with parents and the local community."

Alex Kenny, National Education Union rep for the Tower Hamlets and City District, said a number of teachers - and governors - were still unhappy despite assurances that all employee would all be TUPE transferred to new contracts.

He said: "We are really disappointed the governors didn't listen to the parents. Schools are the parents, and the staff. Both groups said they didn't want to become an academy."

UST did not respond to a request for comment. Cyril Jackson's chair of governors Sue Stollery told the Advertiser: "Cyril Jackson has gone through an extensive consultation period with all stakeholders.

"The Governing Body have taken the decision to undertake due diligence with the University School's Trust (UST). It is following this process will a decision be made."

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