Government’s education chief to investigate Tower Hamlets’ move to shut historic Raine’s School
- Credit: Mike Brooke
Moves to shut down the East End’s historic 300-year-old Raine’s Foundation school by Tower Hamlets Council have hit a snag with the government’s education chief starting a full-scale investigation into the whole issue.
The chief Schools Adjudicator has sent a formal notice to the town hall against the background of objections to the planned closure in August from parents, Raine's Trust that owns the buildings and parents of the 511 pupils affected.
He is demanding any evidence to support the mayor's February 18 decision to issue a final closure notice and is also to meet objectors.
'The parents deserve to know why the town hall wants to transfer pupils who chose an Anglican faith school to a non-faith school,' ex-footballer Mickey Ambrose, leading the campaign, told the East London Advertiser.
'The council has consistently used underhand tactics, scaring parents into switching their children to other schools by telling them Raine's is closing, even before there was any public consultation.'
The local authority twice applied for a 'zero intake' for Year 7 last May and September, effectively beginning the closure process, several months before any formal decision.
The move was rejected by the adjudicator — yet Year 7 was still shut down last September, along with the Sixthform, Year 10 and GCSE course studies, leaving just 191 pupils remaining.
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The adjudicator is calling for a copy of the consultation document used before the mayor issued last month's statutory closure notice, a list of those who were consulted, any responses used to support the closure and any plans showing ownership of the school sites.
Campaigners claim the Raine's take-over by an interim executive board put in by the town hall to push through a 'merger' with Bethnal Green's non-faith Oaklands Secondary is a 'land grab' to take over the lower school site in Old Bethnal Green Road.
Council workmen were sent in last summer to change all the 'Raine's' signs to 'Oaklands'—until the Foundation trust rumbled the move and fired a lawyer's warning shot to stop it.
The building hasn't been used for several years due to a fall in pupil numbers, the council points out. The ownership now in dispute appears to stem from the council's belief that the grounds surrounding the actual building are owned by the church diocese for London, not the foundation trust — which the trust has strongly refuted.
The London Diocese completed works to the building last summer, intending to put it to use, given that it 'could no longer serve Raine's', the council claims. Talks began with the church authority and the trust to lease the site for Oaklands' Sixth Form, according to the council.
'This would have provided income for Raine's,' a council spokesman said. 'But the Foundation Trust refused to lease it out.
'The opportunity for a nearby popular school is the most viable option for the building. It would be left to them to cover security and maintenance costs if it remains empty after Raine's closes on August 31.'
The adjudicator also wants details of proposals to expand Oaklands and any plans showing ownership of the two Raine's sites.
But he is 'legally bound to respond' to the Foundation Trust's appeal against closure, the council points out.
Campaigners are also giving the adjudicator evidence about the council 'bussing in' 210 pupils with behaviour issues in 2017, raising the ratio to one-in-three pupils, far above any other Tower Hamlets school, which they say led to its subsequent poor Ofsted rating.
The town hall is denying 'bussing in' pupils on protection orders as 'wholly unsubstantiated'. The figure actually comes from the minutes of Raine's own board of governors meeting on September 21, 2017.
Raine's held a celebration at St Paul's Cathedral this time last year for the 300th anniversary of its founding in 1719 — in the very week the town hall announced it was to close the historic school.