Tonight in Limehouse, the pouring rain didn’t stop the parents of Sir William Burrough Primary School from coming out to say no to their school becoming an academy.
The public meeting in Dora Hall in Dora St, E14 was standing room only as parents let their feelings be heard. A vote was taken and overwhelmingly they said, “No!” to the school becoming an academy and “Yes!” when asked if they wanted a secret ballot on the matter, something they have thus far been denied.
Chaired by Limehouse Ward Councillor, David Edgar, over 70 people packed into the small hall to listen to the views of speakers Alex Kenny from the National Union of Teachers and Councillor Oliur Rahman, Lead Member for Children’s Services.
First on the agenda was a letter of support to the parents from MP Jim Fitzpatrick. He said, “There seems to be a pattern emerging across the country, people feel the government’s academies programme is being pushed through, that Michael Gove’s academies bear absolutely no relation to those taken forward by the previous government, this government leans towards elitism, not inclusion, a segregated system not an integrated system and to make matters worse, you are left feeling sidelined in the absence of a robust liaison and consultation process.”
Alex Kenny, a teacher of 25 years at Stepney Green School, then spoke against the school becoming an academy but first, pointed out that none of the governors or the head of the school had come to join tonight’s debate, as noted by the empty spaces on the top table. He said that for the decision to be an academy to be taken, “….it should carry out a proper debate amongst the parents, amongst the staff and amongst the people of the wider community and then following that discussion, have a secret vote and see which way the parents go. But to have a consultation that is so one-sided, does not do justice to the word ‘consultation’ and I think it is wrong and exposes the weaknesses in the argument from those people wanting the school to be an academy.” He added that, “All the aspirations the school has, can be done without the school becoming an academy. This is a one-way decision, there is no legal route for the school to come back to the local authority.” He finished saying, “Over the years education in Tower Hamlets has improved immeasurably, this is due to three things: the Local Authority, committed staff and schools supporting each other. All those things are at risk if more and more schools become academies.”
Next, Councillor Oliur Rahman spoke and said that, “Academy schools are failing across the country and nothing is being done. A handful of undemocratically elected people – some not even living in the borough – will be in charge of our children, taking money away from the other schools in the local authority, robbing Peter and giving it to Paul. And if the school fails, who is going to pick up the pieces? You must stand up for your children’s future, go to your governors and tell them how you feel, and I hope that the school will not go against the wishes of the parents or the community.”
Other speakers included Tower Hamlets teachers who questioned whether we wanted this for our community.
Then the Chair asked for parents to vote. First a vote as to whether parents wanted a secret ballot: 41 voted for a secret ballot, 1 against.
Then a vote was taken – again just for parents – as to whether they wanted their school to become an academy. 1 voted for an academy, 48 voted against.
Spontaneous applause greeted the results and for a brief moment, this grey and gloomy corner of Limehouse was lit up by the hope on the faces of the parents of Sr William Burrough School.
The meeting concluded with Councillor Edgar saying that this result will be conveyed to the Head Teacher and the Governors of the school.
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