Chelsea ex-midfielder Ambrose kicks in to save Bethnal Green's historic Raine's Foundation school
PUBLISHED: 18:56 13 May 2019 | UPDATED: 17:11 14 May 2019
Former Chelsea and Charlton footballer Micky Ambrose has returned to his roots to help save the East End's oldest secondary school and kick plans into touch to close down Raine's Foundation in just 16 months' time.
The ex-midfielder who grew up in Poplar and went to school in Bethnal Green admits to being the person who leaked the closure plans to parents.
Now he is backing a parents' online petition which attracted more than 1,000 names in just 24 hours.
"I heard from a town hall contact that there was talk of closing Raine's," Ambrose told the East London Advertiser today.
"I saw a confidential document which I forwarded to parents for the public good, because I believed they should know about it."
He worked at the school in Bethnal Green two years ago when he recalls seven heads of year resigning in addition to teachers being made redundant because of budget cuts caused by falling pupil numbers.
"Parents had been climbing the walls to enrol their kids, back in the day," he added. "But now it's at half capacity.
"The council could have stepped in much earlier after Ofsted inspectors knew there was a problem, that something was a wrong."
The shock news was officially broken to parents at a consultation meeting just 24 hours before the Anglican church school celebrated its 300th anniversary at a ceremony at Paul's Cathedral last Wednesday.
Closure is being recommended by council officers by August next year, with a public consultation next month and the recommendation going to next February's cabinet meeting with just six months to go.
The parents' online petition to save Raine's was set up by former pupil and ex-staff member Laura Gibson, whose own daughter goes to the school.
"We had no consultation before the closure plan was announced," Laura insists. "It was only Micky Ambrose leaking it to us that we found out.
"The timing with our 300th anniversary is devastating. Such an historic school with 300 years or heritage and they've just let it run down."
Campaigners say they weren't given options "or any chance to save the school" like becoming an academy.
They were also furious about a letter sent to pupils from the council's Corporate director for children, Debbie Jones, at the same time the council says parents were officially told.
"This letter is disgraceful," Laura added. "It confused the children. Younger pupils couldn't understand it."
The school which comes under the spiritual guidance of the Diocese of London has faced falling numbers, with places for 911 pupils and only 558 currently on its register.
Its interim executive head has been drafted in, the head teacher from Oaklands Secondary nearby, Patrice Canavan. Oaklands is looking to take over the Lower School premises in Old Bethnal Green Road, it is understood. No future has been decided for the Upper School in Approach Road.
Opponents condemn the tie-up with Oaklands rather than forming a partnership with Sir John Cass Secondary which is also a CofE school.
Tower Hamlets opposition councillor Rabina Khan said: "This should not be just 'one option' for Oaklands to take over. My concern is why the council chose Oaklands when Sir John Cass is an Anglican school which could have a partnership with Raine's in keeping with its heritage.
"I am not entirely in favour of an academy as another option, but would support whatever parents want if they believe this is the best way to keep the school heritage.
"The council must listen to the parents and put alternative options on the table."
The headteacher at Sir John Cass agreed to work with Raine's on an interim basis, but felt the two-mile geographical distance made it difficult to develop as a long-term option.
The London Diocese has agreed the Oaklands partnership as "an appropriate solution for the time being", according to the town hall.
A public consultation is planned next month, with the recommendation for closure going to February's cabinet meeting, just six months to go.
A town hall spokesman said: "The decision to close is a difficult one, especially a school with such a long history in the East End.
"Concerns about educational standards and behaviour over several years have meant fewer and fewer parents opting to apply for places. The school is sadly now only half full. The final decision about closure will be made in February."
Raine's was founded in 1719 by Henry Raine, a devout Christian who used his merchant wealth to set up a school for 100 poor children in Wapping to get a free education.
The school expanded in 1820, inaugurated by the Duke of Clarence who later became King William IV. It moved in 1883 to Whitechapel and new premises in Cannon Street Road, then again in 1913 to Arbour Square in Stepney, the building today now part of New City College.
Its last move was in 1985 to Bethnal Green when the Upper School took over the former Parmiter's Grammar building in Approach Road, redeveloped in 2010 as part of the government's 'Building Schools for the Future' scheme.
Now Raine's may not have a future—unless midfielder Micky Ambrose can help kick the closure plan into touch.