News is now breaking about how, over the last few weeks, a series of steps has been carried out by Lewisham Local Authority, which seem designed to engineer a forced academy conversion at Sedgehill School in Bellingham, SE6. However, parents, staff and students are not going to sit back quietly and let children's education be damaged by such a hostile takeover.
Sedgehill is not a failing school but a vibrant South London comprehensive. It has good parental support and a fantastic tradition in, for example, the performing arts. Its new Sixth Form is performing well, with students leaving with A* and A grades at A-level. Its roll is expanding at both Year 7 and Year 12. Yet this is a school that the Local Authority unjustifiably deemed to be worthy of being sent an official '"warning notice" a few weeks ago, a process which has now opened the door to the forced academisation of the School.
Of course, Sedgehill School is also precisely the kind of school that an expanding academy sponsor would want to take over. It's a school that's already improving and expecting 65% of the present Year 11 cohort to obtain 5 or more A*-C GCSEs with English and Maths (5A*CEM) in 2015 .
However, what better for a prospective sponsor than to take advantage of a quick 'smash-and-grab' in the spring and then declare the new 'Academy' a success in the summer, when all the hard work had been done by the previous school? Would anyone operate that cynically? In a Labour Local Authority? I can only present the facts and allow people to draw conclusions.
Lewisham Authority has taken full advantage of the Coalition's pro-Academy legislation. At its last Ofsted inspection in October 2013, Sedgehill school was judged as 'Requires Improvement' overall (although both Behaviour and Safety of Pupils and Leadership and Management were judged as Good). However, that overall 'RI' judgement alone is not sufficient to allow the Secretary of State to force a school to become an academy. No, that could only happen if the school was issued a "warning notice". Of course, that's just what Lewisham LA did at the end of October 2014.
Was the "warning notice" justified? Legislation states that a LA is only allowed to issue such a notice if "the standards of performance of pupils at the school are unacceptably low". That's not a description that parents (including myself) would recognise as applying to Sedgehill School.
Yes, this summer's GCSE results disappointed the school, as they dipped to 44% 5A*CEM. However, this 9% drop was replicated nationally, as changes to examinations led to a drop of 7% on average overall. Several other Lewisham schools showed similar or greater 'dips' with the Council's own Select Committee paper explaining that "schools have been responding to a conflation of a series of changes to exam structure and content" and that "there was much volatility in the system this year and this did impact on many of our secondary schools". However, when it came to Sedgehill School, a warning notice was unfairly served.
The school appealed against the notice, but the arbiter of the appeal in law is Ofsted! Perhaps unsurprisingly, they have rejected the appeal and upheld the warning notice.
Now the full force of the undemocratic legislation can be applied. Staff have been told that the Authority is in the process of rapidly 'consulting' over disbanding the existing Governing Body and replacing it with an 'Interim Executive Board' appointed by the Authority. Of course, these are likely to be individuals chosen to carry out the Authority's wishes.
As David Wolfe QC explains on his blog http://davidwolfe.org.uk/wordpress/archives/1253 "In my experience, when governing bodies are ... told that the Secretary of State wants to turn their
school into an academy ... there is a strong sense of “jump or you’ll be
pushed” ... Where they don’t jump, the local authority or Secretary of State imposes
an Interim Executive Board which then acts on their behalf in going
through the motions of a consultation etc. with a view to initiating the academy conversion process as if they were a normal governing body - except that, instead of the
process being initiated by a governing body which comprises parents,
staff, community governors, etc, it is then initiated by a body of
people put in place to bring about the forced change to being an
I'll add just one more fact to help you draw your conclusions. Before being 'pushed', Local Authority Officers had already told Sedgehill Governors that they wanted them to agree to the Principal of Bethnal Green Academy becoming the school's new Executive Headteacher. However, the Sedgehill governing body voted against this recommendation. So, the very next day, the LA issued their warning notice - now leading to the imposition of an IEB. Coincidentally or not, the Bethnal Green and Shoreditch
Education Trust, which governs this Academy, has
a DfE ‘approved sponsor’ to take over other schools, allowing it to expand its academy network. David Wolfe's words may prove to be remarkably accurate.
Far from supporting children as the Authority may claim, their actions will damage education. Staff and students are facing disruption instead of support. Parents are already discussing whether their children will be happy staying at an Academy, instead of at a community school like the existing Sedgehill. An imposed change to school senior management is expected - which could then soon be followed by an attempted Academy conversion. Yet, as research has consistently shown, there is absolutely no evidence that academy conversion provides any educational benefits - and why should it?
Events of the last few days and weeks have shocked staff and parents, who are only just now finding out the full story. However, the Sedgehill community isn't going to just allow these undemocratic and unjustified manoeuvres to succeed. Parents and staff meetings are already being called and campaigning actions, including strike ballots, planned. Along with the wider support of parents and staff in SAIL (Stop Academies In Lewisham), we will be organising to expose what is taking place and to oppose the damaging imposition of an IEB and Academy at Sedgehill School.