Council's 'Brexit style' bid to fast track Raine's closure rejected by Schools Adjudicator
PUBLISHED: 07:00 28 October 2019 | UPDATED: 14:40 29 October 2019
The government's Schools Adjudicator has rejected Tower Hamlets Council's plans to block all new admissions to Raine's Foundation in its controversial "fast track" bid to close down the church-run secondary.
It comes as parents and campaigners accuse the authority of trying to rush through a "Brexit style" plan to close down the 300-year-old school.
Even the deadline of October 23 given to the authority by a High Court judge for an impact assessment that the closure would have on the community is uncannily just seven days before Boris Johnson's original deadline to quit the EU.
The council apparently wasn't going to meet the deadline, according to the agenda at this Wednesday's cabinet meeting, while also having been stalled in its attempt to take over Raine's Lower School to hand over to Oaklands Secondary.
The Foundation Trust which owns the Lower School building has blocked the take-over with a "trespass" warning shot legal notice.
"This is more suspicious than Brexit," trust chairwoman Carole Day told the East London Advertiser.
"The council has only just spoken to us for the first time in the 12 months since it decided to close Raine's.
"But the building belongs to us 100 per cent—and we say no."
The council values the site at £9.8m, including the building and land around it, but the London Diocese which runs the school wasn't happy with the valuation. Now the trust has stepped in and said the building isn't for sale anyway.
"We're not here to give it to another school," Ms Day insisted. "The council is going full steam to close Raine's—they've completely destroyed its name."
But now the School Adjudicator's Office in Whitehall, which oversees all pupil admissions, has warned that it won't agree to a "zero intake" of pupils for the 2020 Year 7, seen by parents as a back door route to close down the school.
A letter from adjudicator Lorraine Chapman warned: "I do not approve the proposed variation to the admissions arrangement for September 2020. I determine that the published admission number will remain at 150 for Year 7."
The council had given an assurance in the High Court in the summer that it had no plans to close down Year 7.
Yet there is currently no Year 7 at Raine's after the town hall stepped in and withdrew all places.
The council has now confirmed to the Advertiser that Raine's continues to be open to applications for admission. The authority will now make a change to its cabinet decision timetable following the adjudicator's ruling.
A town hall spokesman assured: "We will make sure families who have applied for admission next September won't be disadvantaged in securing a place at an alternative school if it is eventually decided that Raine's will close next August."
But there is frustration at the town hall that it is barred from taking over the Lower School to hand over to Oaklands.
The council spokesman added: "We are naturally disappointed with Raine's Foundation Trust using its interest to deny access to a facility that would otherwise not be in use. It is not a good reflection on the trust and not helping Raine's improve its financial position."
A judge in the High Court case brought last month by a Year 8 pupil ordered that an impact assessment has to be made by October 23—but Wednesday's Cabinet agenda says an equality analysis "will only be required if the decision is taken to issue a statutory notice to close Raine's and expand Oaklands", despite the court judgement.
The authority suddenly posted its Equality Assessment on Friday, two days after the High Court deadline, after being contacted by the Advertiser.
The assessment acknowledges "an opposing view" that the school has a significant historical place and reputation and therefore continued efforts should be made to enable Raine's to remain open to serve the Church of England community.
However, there is a continuing fall in pupil numbers and the school's financial viability, leading to the conclusion that Raine's "should be considered for closure", it points out.
Campaigners claim the council has let Raine's run down and was effectively closing the East End's oldest school by the back door.
New pupils were offered places in March for Year 7 that was supposed to start in September.
But all the places were withdrawn by the town hall in May in favour of taking over the Lower School to expand Oaklands non-faith secondary instead, even though a formal decision on Raine's future was not supposed to be made before February next year.
The scheme to shut Raine's was mooted as far back as October last year, but kept under wraps until March—the very week a ceremony at St Paul's Cathedral celebrated the 300th anniversary of its founding by philanthropist Henry Raine.