Hundreds of parents and school students packed in to the Main Hall of Sedgehill School tonight to give their views on the Council's proposal to replace the current Governing Body with an Interim Executive Board. Unless the Council can be persuaded to think again, this would be the first step towards Sedgehill being forced unwillingly into becoming an Academy.
The Chair of Governors introduced the meeting and invited people to give their views. Many powerful and moving speeches were made. Yet, in an hour and a half of discussion, not a single parent or student agreed with the imposition of the IEB! Instead, the school community applauded contribution after contribution made in support of the School - and in opposition to becoming an Academy.
Parents called for Sedgehill to "continue as it is, doing an amazing job for our children" and that "the Local Authority should be supporting the School, not attacking it".
One father asked why politicians seemed to be giving away
responsibility for schools to individuals and questioned in whose interest
these deals were being made.
A number of telling contributions were made from parents and students who had experienced an Academy education. One parent who had moved their children to Sedgehill from an Academy complained how they felt "kids had been treated like robots" and "not given room to breathe", unlike at Sedgehill.
A mother explained how her nephew had been one of many pushed out of an Academy because they weren't on track to reach their predicted grades. Another explained how he was starting to enjoy his evenings at home again now that he had moved his child from a Harris Academy to Sedgehill and seen their stress levels fall.
Parents who had looked at the Bethnal Green Academy website - the school in the Trust that is being lined up to take over Sedgehill - pointed out that it suggested that perhaps 40% of its teachers were new inexperienced staff. They asked what kind of support and continuity would be provided for our students if such an apparent high rate of staff turnover was repliacted at Sedgehill.
A student who had moved to Sedgehill from a Harris Academy explained how academisation of her school had set things back. She had experienced a "conveyor belt of teachers" that had led to a "culture of students who couldn't trust adults". Several parents praised the pastoral support at Sedgehill and questioned what would happen to the SEN support and Deaf Education Centre under an Academy regime.
There were many other eloquent and impassioned contributions from students, which in themselves were clear evidence of the skills and confidence that a caring community school like Sedgehill had nurtured. Fighting back her tears, one student explained how Sedgehill had "taken time to look after me, when others had turned me away".
Parents and students alike, however, were also clear that Sedgehill was a school where they could achieve academically. One father said it was a 'mockery' for the Council to suggest that the school was failing its pupils and that "this school doesn't deserve to be mocked". One student explained that "if you are confident, then you can get good grades" and that Sedgehill gave children that confidence and support. Another explained how she had been rejected by academies in Southwark where she lives but was now on track to achieve 7 A/ A*'s at GCSE this summer.
A parent also asked the Council to step back and think about how the imposition of an IEB would really affect the School, saying it would "destabilise the progress being made by the school and knock things back". In any case, asked another parent, "we don't need an IEB, we're not investigating fraud and we're not in special measures, unlike some academies!"
Any school would have been proud to have received the level of support that was so evident tonight. Yet the Local Authority says its a 'failing school'. However, as I pointed out, the excuse for supposed 'failure' was a dip in GCSE results that many Lewisham schools experienced as a result of changes to exam structures in 2014. If the Council was so sure of its arguments then, I asked, instead of bulldozing through an IEB, why not give parents the right to vote in an open ballot about they think is best for the future for their School? Why would parents vote in support of maintaining arrangements that they genuinely thought were 'failing' its children?
Of course, tonight's meeting showed that this was far from what parents think. If such a ballot were taken, most parents would vote against the imposition of the IEB. However, in the absence of any real 'consultation', the meeting also showed what a fundamentally undemocratic process was being followed by the Authority. Nobody from the Council was present to hear these impassioned speeches. As one parent said "this isn't a consultation when all the Council do is tell us what they are going to do!"
A mother of a Year 12 student received some of the strongest applause when she complained about the Council's "bullying tactics" and that labelling Sedgehill a 'failing' school was "a fallacy". "A-level results continue to rise, the school has warmth, we know our children will be engaged and supported".
She concluded that we have to show that "Sedgehill is a force to be reckoned with" and called on everyone present to send in their letters and emails of protest and to join the Lobby of the Town Hall on Friday at 4pm.
Councillors may not have been there tonight to hear parents and students for themselves but they should ignore this report at their peril. The real voice of the Sedgehill community made its views clear - and its anger at the damaging plans being imposed by the Authority. There is still time for the Council to step back and think again.