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Raine’s closure approved but scrapping Year 7 by Tower Hamlets Council may be unlawful, government schools chief warns

PUBLISHED: 17:00 24 April 2020 | UPDATED: 19:32 17 May 2020

Schools adjudicator's final report on Tower Hamlets Council plan to close Raine's Foundation School. Picture: Mike Brooke

Schools adjudicator's final report on Tower Hamlets Council plan to close Raine's Foundation School. Picture: Mike Brooke

Mike Brooke

A top government education chief has approved the closure of the 300-year-old Raine’s Foundation Church School but warned Tower Hamlets Council that it may have been “unlawful” in the way it pushed through the controversial plans.

Pupils sign petition last summer to try and save historic Raine's Foundation School. Picture: Mike BrookePupils sign petition last summer to try and save historic Raine's Foundation School. Picture: Mike Brooke

Pupils were accepted for the new Year 7 that was supposed to have begun in September — but had their places withdrawn which “would not have been lawful,” according to a long-awaited Schools Adjudicator’s report into the planned closure by August 31.

Merging the pupils into Bethnal Green’s non-faith Oaklands Secondary is also “not required”, the report states.

The council withdrew 36 places that had been accepted by applicants for Year 7 starting last September, then applied to the Schools Adjudication Office for a “zero intake”, but that was rejected.

Yet the local authority still went ahead and stopped all admissions as well as scrapping Year 10 with pupils having to find other schools to complete their GCSE courses.

However, the adjudicator Phil Whiffing’s report also says: “The process laid out in the Act and the Regulations were properly followed. The long history and its status as a Church of England school have created strong feelings against its proposed closure.

Clock ticking... Raine's School established 1719 now being closed down by Tower Hamlets Council on August 31, 2020,  after more than 300 years. Picture: Mike BrookeClock ticking... Raine's School established 1719 now being closed down by Tower Hamlets Council on August 31, 2020, after more than 300 years. Picture: Mike Brooke

“However, in the last 10 years the school has become less popular with parents.

“For whatever the reasons, the school has been in a spiral of decline for many years. Despite major capital investment and a range of interventions it has been unable to break out of a vicious circle and too few parents now want to send their children to the school for it to be viable educationally or financially.

“There are many alternative schools in the area which provide a higher standard of education and these schools can accommodate children who would be displaced by the proposed closure.”

But parents accuse the council of deliberately running down Raine’s. Their campaign to keep the school going is led by ex-Chelsea footballer Mickey Ambrose.

“Raine’s has been deliberately decimated,” he claims. “The council manipulated admission numbers and closed year groups despite having no legal permission.

Raine's Lower School in Old Bethnal Green Road... where Tower Hamlets Council has left computers belonging to Oaklands Secondary without Foundation Trust's permission. Picture: Mike BrookeRaine's Lower School in Old Bethnal Green Road... where Tower Hamlets Council has left computers belonging to Oaklands Secondary without Foundation Trust's permission. Picture: Mike Brooke

“But pupils voted with their feet and refused to be shunted into Oaklands. Parents chose Raine’s because it was a unique CoE faith school.”

Most Raine’s pupils have now been disbursed, with just 140 left out of 550. Only 27 pupils opted to switch to Oaklands.

Campaigners have now called on the Adjudicator’s Office to send a full report to Education Secretary Gavin Williamson on the grounds that the council “made errors unlawfully withdrawing offers for Year 7 applicants”.

Foundation Trust chairwoman Carole Day told the East London Advertiser: “The council has already destroyed Raine’s.

“The adjudication could only be made with most of the children already disbursed elsewhere — so the school is no longer viable. But no-one gets the blame or is fined for what’s happed. It’s astonishing.”

Campaigner Mickey Ambrose... Campaigner Mickey Ambrose... "Raine’'s has been decimated by the council manipulating admission numbers and closing year groups." Picture: Mike Brooke

Adjudicator Phil Whiffing’s report confirmed: “The council had decided there would be no Year 7 in September 2019. Places had been offered and to have withdrawn them would not have been lawful.

“The absence of Year 7 was a matter which objectors said had been engineered to undermine the viability of the school.”

Doubt has also been raised on whether the schemed merger with Oaklands is justified.

The adjudication states there is a limited demand for places at Oaklands from displaced students, so “an expansion of premises is not required”.

The Adjudicator upheld the earlier decision to close Raine’s Foundation and its findings “confirm that the actions taken by the council in the consultation and deciding on the closure followed the necessary statutory requirements”.

The school will close on August 31 with the remaining pupils being transferred to other Tower Hamlets schools including Oaklands and to neighbouring boroughs.

The town hall has its eye on the Lower School building in Old Bethnal Green Road ready to hand over to Oaklands.

A council spokesman confirmed: “We are keen for the Lower School to be put to proper use and are working to secure this.”

But the Foundation Trust is adamant that their building, which has only just had a £4m refurbishment, isn’t up for grabs.


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