Raine's School closure by Tower Hamlets could face legal challenge in court
PUBLISHED: 17:00 20 June 2019 | UPDATED: 19:03 23 June 2019
Plans to close down the 300-year-old Raine's Foundation School by Tower Hamlets Council could face a legal challenge in the High Court on the grounds of pupils given places in September who have now been told they can't go after all.
The legal wrangle emerged after last night's face-to-face consultation with parents when a panel of top council and London Diocese officials were accused of pushing through a controversial merger of the historic Anglican church school with Bethnal Green's Oaklands Secondary.
Raine's Foundation Trust is meeting today to discuss any legal action, the East London Advertiser has learned.
Such action could be based on the 29 Year 7 places that were confirmed for families in March—but withdrawn the next month with letters warning of plans to shut the school and all other intakes now stopped before any public consultations.
Campaigners like ex-footballer Mickey Ambrose who worked at the school for a year claim the council doesn't have the legal go-ahead from the Secretary of State and have written to Damian Hinds about "statutory rights being breached" because the confirmed admissions have been cancelled.
"The challenge concerns 29 confirmed places that were withdrawn in April," he told the Advertiser at the meeting.
"It's put these kids at a disadvantage because places at other schools have now gone.
"The rest of Year 7 intake is being stopped without the authority of Whitehall.
"The parents are livid, so we're looking at raising funds for a legal challenge."
He has written to the Secretary of State and has had a reply asking what breaches they feel Tower Hamlets Council have made.
Raine's Foundation trustee Toni Fox confirmed: "There are still 19 pupils who were given places for September who now don't have school to go to."
The independent education adjudicator who chaired last night's heated meeting, Alan Parker, told the parents that those who have actually been offered a place "have a legal right to take it up if they want to".
The consultation, which overran by an hour, was almost hijacked by the campaigners attempting to run it themselves.
Grandmother Margaret Cox, who has seen four generations of her family go to Raine's, pointed a finger at the panel demanding: "How you guys have rolled over and allowed it get this far is an absolute disgrace.
"Schools do fail—but it's the council's job to support the parents, the children, staff and the community to make sure they don't fail."
She accused them of a "done deal" over the closure and added: "You should be ashamed because we only found out about this on social media. It was leaked which forced your hand. You have let the children down badly."
Students taking their GCSEs a week after the closure leaked were crying and stressed and not sleeping, the meeting heard. Some had the prospect of "their whole future down the drain" because there's no sixth-form to go to in September.
Inigo Wolf from the London Diocese, which is helping to oversee the merger with Oaklands, promised it would make sure the religious education of Raine's pupils was "supported" if they transferred to Oaklands, but then admitted: "Such plans haven't been discussed as this a consultation and we don't know if the closure will happen."
He was shouted down when trying to explain that the Diocese doesn't have the funds to run the school.
Ex-pupil Tony Groves who went back to Raine's to work as a science technician for 45 years and became a school governor, now retired, shouted at the panel: "You've been trying to close Raine's for 30 years and this is the culmination of your incompetence. Raine's is a passion, but you are a disgrace."
The council's education director Christine McInnis presented a dismal timeline showing a failing school with £2.2 million debts and 'first choice' applications dropping to 45 this year compared to 63 in 2013 and 57 in 2015.
But parent Edward Abara, with two children at Raine's, demanded: "If the school is failing you need to find out why—not close it down."
The presentation by Christine McInnis and schools director Debbie Jones is to be followed by another given to parents at Raine's Senior school in Approach Road next Wednesday evening at 6pm, June 26, while any final decision on closing won't be till February.
Tower Hamlets schools cabinet member Danny Hassell who was in the audience last night slipped out before parents had a chance to question him on the closure threat, while Oaklands' head teacher Patrice Canavan sat quietly at the back listening to the protests.