LEYTONSTONE: School & council row over academy plans

East London and West Essex Guardian Series: The picket line outside Connaught School for Girls during the first strike earlier this month. The picket line outside Connaught School for Girls during the first strike earlier this month.

A HEADTEACHER has said she does not trust Waltham Forest Council to safeguard the future of her school – as a row over its bid to become an academy deepens.

National Union of Teachers (NUT) staff members at Connaught School for Girls in Leytonstone will strike for the second time in a month on Wednesday (October 24) over the controversial proposals - with governors holding a vote on the plans that same day.

If the school does become an academy it will break away from council control and receive all its funding direct from the government, giving it greater independence.

Governors and headteacher Ann Betts fear the council wants to merge Connaught with another school and believe that becoming an academy is the only way to guarantee its future as a small but popular all-girls school.

But parents have contacted the Guardian claiming they are confused because both the school and council accuse each other of making inaccurate statements about the implications of such a change.

The council says there are no plans to merge Connaught and states there will be no financial benefit to the school if it becomes an academy.

In a letter to the school, the council accused the Connaught leadership of including "misconceptions or inaccuracies" in a consultation document sent to parents.

But Ms Betts insists the council told her there were merger plans in the pipeline and that the school would receive an extra £97,000 by changing its status.

Ms Betts told the Guardian: "The authority hasn't got a particularly good track record with this school. We haven't got any renovations or rebuilding and our budget has been cut. We seem to be quite low down on their agenda.

"A lot of what the council says is not true. We don't trust the authority."

Leytonstone ward councillor Clyde Loakes waded into the row by sending copies of the council's letter to some parents, much to the school's annoyance.

Parent Tom Taylor, 59, who has a 13-year-old daughter at the school, told the Guardian: "The school and local authority are unable to agree between them on the basic facts.

"It's very concerning and many parents like myself want this cleared up and the consultation to be extended until we have some answers."

No-one from Waltham Forest NUT was available for comment.

Comments (5)

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11:30am Tue 23 Oct 12

John J C Moss says...

Who here trusts politicians?

If not, why would you let them control your childrens' school?

LEAs should be there to act in loco parentis for children in care and nothing else. They serve no other useful function from what I can see other than to hold back schools and teachers out of an irrational fear of some doing "better" than others.
Who here trusts politicians? If not, why would you let them control your childrens' school? LEAs should be there to act in loco parentis for children in care and nothing else. They serve no other useful function from what I can see other than to hold back schools and teachers out of an irrational fear of some doing "better" than others. John J C Moss

3:30pm Tue 23 Oct 12

PsiMonk says...

On the contrary, John, LEAs offer a whole bunch of things Academies don't.

1. Academies don't have a great academic record ("The gap in attainment between more disadvantaged pupils and others has grown wider in academies than in comparable maintained schools" National Audit Office).

2. By taking an academy's money out of central control, that threatens the LEAs ability to provide specialist services for a low per-head cost. For instance, academies not only have delivered generally worse SEN coverage/support than other schools, but also the more schools in an LEA become academies, the more the LEAs ability to maintain SEN support services will be threatened.

3. Academies also threaten collective pay deals for teachers, allow non-qualified teachers and the general experience of teachers in academies is an erosion of the pay/hours deal. How does that help motivate good staff?

4. Academies can set their own admissions criteria, they can go off piste on curriculum items, they can serve junk food (and frequently do).

5. Academies, generally, have fewer parent governors - with less power.

Academies, are, in short, brilliant for controlling headteachers (to be clear, I don't know if the head of Connaught is one - I don't know her at all) and private companies, and potentially (but not necessarily) good for middle class parents who want to send little Jocasta to a school that excludes all the other kids (and particularly those with SEN) but terrible for everyone else.

So, unless you're the kind of free market evangelist who thinks the current financial mayhem is a result of too much regulation rather than not enough, then you really need to sit down and have a think about why academies are "better".

Whatever you think of our borough's politicians (I'm no fan), the actual truth (speaking as a parent) is most of the local schools are OK. How long they remain that as all the outstanding schools opt out, then all the special measures schools get handed over to private companies, and evangelical groups etc. form their own free schools, is another matter.

Personally, I think fighting for academy status for your school is one step down from fleeing to Hertford or going private on the whole "screw you, I'm all right" Thatcherite approach to community and society.
On the contrary, John, LEAs offer a whole bunch of things Academies don't. 1. Academies don't have a great academic record ("The gap in attainment between more disadvantaged pupils and others has grown wider in academies than in comparable maintained schools" National Audit Office). 2. By taking an academy's money out of central control, that threatens the LEAs ability to provide specialist services for a low per-head cost. For instance, academies not only have delivered generally worse SEN coverage/support than other schools, but also the more schools in an LEA become academies, the more the LEAs ability to maintain SEN support services will be threatened. 3. Academies also threaten collective pay deals for teachers, allow non-qualified teachers and the general experience of teachers in academies is an erosion of the pay/hours deal. How does that help motivate good staff? 4. Academies can set their own admissions criteria, they can go off piste on curriculum items, they can serve junk food (and frequently do). 5. Academies, generally, have fewer parent governors - with less power. Academies, are, in short, brilliant for controlling headteachers (to be clear, I don't know if the head of Connaught is one - I don't know her at all) and private companies, and potentially (but not necessarily) good for middle class parents who want to send little Jocasta to a school that excludes all the other kids (and particularly those with SEN) but terrible for everyone else. So, unless you're the kind of free market evangelist who thinks the current financial mayhem is a result of too much regulation rather than not enough, then you really need to sit down and have a think about why academies are "better". Whatever you think of our borough's politicians (I'm no fan), the actual truth (speaking as a parent) is most of the local schools are OK. How long they remain that as all the outstanding schools opt out, then all the special measures schools get handed over to private companies, and evangelical groups etc. form their own free schools, is another matter. Personally, I think fighting for academy status for your school is one step down from fleeing to Hertford or going private on the whole "screw you, I'm all right" Thatcherite approach to community and society. PsiMonk

4:28pm Tue 23 Oct 12

Helen, Walthamstow says...

I'm sorry to say this, but Mrs Betts is right to be distrustful of the local authority.

Not just recently, but for several years now, a number of schools have been misled by the council into taking decisions which have had an adverse effect on their ability to provide a high quality education for our children. Too many primary schools have had to expand too rapidly because the council refused to accept that a places crisis was creeping up on it when it still had a chance to lobby for extra funding for measured expansions. Promises made to schools have been broken - repeatedly. Building projects have been delivered late and shoddily handled. (St Mary's CE School is Brooke Road, see this site, is just one example of many.) The children's centre fiasco, brought about because councillors insisted on keeping all the children's centres "open", even though some were not needed, has led to disarray in them and still unresolved problems for the schools to which they are attached. (See the report on this site concerning the Ofsted for Mission Grove children's centre. The situation described there is to be found across the borough). Those are just some examples.

I very much doubt there is a head teacher or a governing body in this borough that has any faith in the local authority. If you are a parent at a local school, just ask them.

Personally, I don't believe for one moment that calling a school an academy and funding it centrally makes it a better school, but it does get it out of the hands of a council that is no longer fit for purpose in educational terms. The majority of work that is carried out in schools on behalf of the local authority is already outsourced to companies or individual consultants. There are no advisors or school improvement partners - an essential for better local education - and schools often end up paying for their own consultants out of their own budgets.

I find it quite hilarious that Clyde Loakes has waded into the argument in the way he has when his council has been pushing some schools facing difficulties into the academy programme. Hypocrisy at its worst! It smacks of a desire to keep the best and ditch the rest.

It is highly likely that when Mrs Betts says "the council told her there were merger plans in the pipeline and that the school would receive an extra £97,000 by changing its status", it is the unvarnished truth. It would be typical of what is being said and done elsewhere in Waltham Forest.
I'm sorry to say this, but Mrs Betts is right to be distrustful of the local authority. Not just recently, but for several years now, a number of schools have been misled by the council into taking decisions which have had an adverse effect on their ability to provide a high quality education for our children. Too many primary schools have had to expand too rapidly because the council refused to accept that a places crisis was creeping up on it when it still had a chance to lobby for extra funding for measured expansions. Promises made to schools have been broken - repeatedly. Building projects have been delivered late and shoddily handled. (St Mary's CE School is Brooke Road, see this site, is just one example of many.) The children's centre fiasco, brought about because councillors insisted on keeping all the children's centres "open", even though some were not needed, has led to disarray in them and still unresolved problems for the schools to which they are attached. (See the report on this site concerning the Ofsted for Mission Grove children's centre. The situation described there is to be found across the borough). Those are just some examples. I very much doubt there is a head teacher or a governing body in this borough that has any faith in the local authority. If you are a parent at a local school, just ask them. Personally, I don't believe for one moment that calling a school an academy and funding it centrally makes it a better school, but it does get it out of the hands of a council that is no longer fit for purpose in educational terms. The majority of work that is carried out in schools on behalf of the local authority is already outsourced to companies or individual consultants. There are no advisors or school improvement partners - an essential for better local education - and schools often end up paying for their own consultants out of their own budgets. I find it quite hilarious that Clyde Loakes has waded into the argument in the way he has when his council has been pushing some schools facing difficulties into the academy programme. Hypocrisy at its worst! It smacks of a desire to keep the best and ditch the rest. It is highly likely that when Mrs Betts says "the council told her there were merger plans in the pipeline and that the school would receive an extra £97,000 by changing its status", it is the unvarnished truth. It would be typical of what is being said and done elsewhere in Waltham Forest. Helen, Walthamstow

4:53pm Tue 23 Oct 12

chocolatesquire says...

Just one question... Why did people not know about the letter from the local authority until it was leaked? Arguments for and against academies are all very well, but the authority wrote before the last strike and no one was told.

This strike is not about academies, it's about allowing free and fair debate.
Just one question... Why did people not know about the letter from the local authority until it was leaked? Arguments for and against academies are all very well, but the authority wrote before the last strike and no one was told. This strike is not about academies, it's about allowing free and fair debate. chocolatesquire

11:07pm Tue 23 Oct 12

Robert19 says...

John J C Moss wrote:
Who here trusts politicians?

If not, why would you let them control your childrens' school?

LEAs should be there to act in loco parentis for children in care and nothing else. They serve no other useful function from what I can see other than to hold back schools and teachers out of an irrational fear of some doing "better" than others.
I thought you were a politician???? Comes to a fine thing when even politicians don't trust politicians.
[quote][p][bold]John J C Moss[/bold] wrote: Who here trusts politicians? If not, why would you let them control your childrens' school? LEAs should be there to act in loco parentis for children in care and nothing else. They serve no other useful function from what I can see other than to hold back schools and teachers out of an irrational fear of some doing "better" than others.[/p][/quote]I thought you were a politician???? Comes to a fine thing when even politicians don't trust politicians. Robert19

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