On Thursday 15th March, before 8am, our Interim Headteacher and the Chair of Governors at Downhills School received phone calls from officials at the DfE informing them that the Secretary of State had decided to sack their locally accountable Governing Body with immediate notice, including the democratically elected parent governors, and replace them with a Interim Executive Board. At the same time, the Secretary of State issued an Academy Order, naming Harris as the preferred sponsor.
Parents, teachers, ex-governors and others connected with the school were dismayed to find that none of the members of the IEB live in the Tottenham area, and that they had never visited the school before Thursday. The identity of the board members is shocking – the new Chair is Les Walton, Chair of the Young People’s Learning Agency which funds academies and provides most of the assets to, for example, Harris Federation’s subsidiary HCTC Enterprises Ltd. Other members include Dan Moynihan, Chief Executive of the Harris Federation, Robin Bosher, Primary Director of the Harris Federation and Ian Hickman, Director of Policy at the Audit Commission and Chair of Finance for a large PFI funded secondary school. Ian identifies one of his specialisms as “developing and managing large scale capital programmes and service procurement contracts” (LinkedIn). The final member of the board is retired Headteacher Dame Sylvia Morris, who refused to speak with parents who met outside the school to protest on Thursday morning. This was unfortunate, as Dame Sylvia is the only member of the board with any primary school experience.
Astonishingly, the DfE has denied that there is any conflict of interest in having this Board consult with parents and other stake holders about the future of the school and, specifically, whether it should convert to a sponsored academy. Many parents are angry that their views to date have been disregarded and question whether the consultation process will be meaningful. There is no parental representation on the IEB currently governing Downhills School.
One of the final tasks undertaken by the legitimate governing body was a parental ballot to gauge current views about academy status. The votes were counted on Friday 16th – 147 voted against, 14 for and 5 don’t knows. So that’s over 90% against academy conversion, even after the highly critical Ofsted report and the resignation of Leslie Church.
It would seem that the much touted Coalition government values of localism and parental choice apply only to parents who agree with them. Lord Harris has donated millions to the Tory party over the years and, on the same day as our governors were sacked, received an outstanding achievement to retail award from David Cameron, who described him as a “great supporter and a great friend to me ” (Independent, 17.3.12).
Parents have been writing to the DfE since last autumn asking the Secretary of State to provide evidence that sponsored academy status is a reliable method of school improvement, but the Department has not been able to provide this evidence. We are appalled that our children’s education is being used in this reckless political experiment. The Secretary of State clearly plans to hand our children’s school over to corporate interests and friends of the government. This is corrupt cronyism at its most blatant, arrogant and damaging. Our campaign against forced primary academies, the DfE’s brutal bullying tactics and the removal of our schools from democratic accountability will continue.
From The Save Downhills Campaign