Stories + Views
The Saga of Sulivan
Hammersmith & Fulham Council announced in July that they wanted to close Sulivan School. No advance warning and no paperwork (despite requests from school leadership). Just a cold meeting and an announcement – and all FOIA’s denied.
Sulivan Primary School is a very popular and growing 1.5 form entry LA school serving a very diverse community located in Hammersmith and Fulham. Sulivan sits amidst a mix of schools, one of the closest being a named feeder to The London Oratory. Sulivan is chosen as first choice by 76% of parents. The Nursery is vastly oversubscribed. Reception is Full and overall there is less vacancy in Sulivan as a percentage of places than at any of the other area schools with the exception of one VA school which has just been rated ‘Needs Improvement’. The LBHF refused Sulivan’s request to expand its nursery provision to mirror it’s reception – despite Sulivan having the longest waiting list in the Borough – which would have ensured full capacity through every year group.
Langford: 61% full: In special Measures for several years – “with serious weaknesses”. No Head.
New Kings: 81% full: Good.
Sulivan: 86% full: Good with Outstanding Features
Holy Cross: 98% full: Needs Improvement Across All Areas
Sulivan is OFSTED Good with Outstanding Features rating and has been in an upward trend for years, hitting it’s best results ever this year in both KS1 http://saveoursulivan.org/communications/sulivans-ks1-results-highest-ever/ KS2 http://saveoursulivan.org/communications/sulivans-ks2-results-flying-high/ and a special note for the amazing pupil premium impact http://saveoursulivan.org/communications/pupil-premium-outstripping-lbhf-100/ at this school.
Despite having a high proportion of children with EAL, SEN and on free school meals Sulivan continues to be rated as ‘Good with Outstanding features’ by Ofsted and it enjoys very healthy SATs results. It is, by any standards, an academically successful and thriving school which serves the very diverse local population.
KS1 – Context
15% pupils on Special Educational Needs register
Reading:- 95% L2 / 30% L3 ( Borough Av 90/29)
Writing:- 95% L2 / 22% L3 (Borough Av 86/18)
Maths:- 97% L2 / 24% L3 (Borough Av 90/26)
50% pupils on Special Educational Needs register
Reading:- 90% L4 / 48% L5 (Borough Av 88/49)
Writing:- 83% L4 / 41% L5 (Borough Av 86/34)
Maths:- 86% L4 / 41% L5 (Borough Av 86/46)
All results exceed Borough averages in both attainment and progress and it is widely considered the best community primary in the area. There are three other primaries in the immediate area: one is ‘Good’, one has been 35% empty and in special measures for years and has no head, and the other is a full VA Catholic selective primary which has just been rated ‘Needs Improvement’.
It was clear that the council had used out of date figures to support their case. Between July and today the council have never put the correct figures into the public domain. This is increasingly seen as a deliberate strategy to mislead. Only when pressed did they correct SOME – but the damage was done. Most ‘supporting’ consultation responses cited incorrect data.
A fuller presentation on how we are best positioned for capacity and outcomes in a post summarising the vacancies, headships and OFSTED ratings of local primaries – all using LBHF’s own data. (http://saveoursulivan.org/communications/sulivans-immediate-area-local-schools/)
Sulivan also offers a very special outdoor environment http://saveoursulivan.org/consultation-resources/photo-gallery/, full of nature areas for learning maths and science, gardening and cooking – a real gem within inner London. Sulivan has a long history of sharing this treasure with the local community and with other local schools.
Hammersmith and Fulham is consulting on closing Sulivan in order to amalgamate it with New Kings – another nearby school. Sulivan is one of the largest schools by population – and New Kings is the smallest primary in the Borough. This is purportedly to solve the ‘surplus places’ problem – however closing Sulivan reduces those vacant places by just a few, and reduces overall primary places in the area by 20% in the context of increased need.
Council Information predicting places required from 2012 – 2015 shows that 2013 predicts 1648 places and 2014 – 1660 places. This about 100 more than is currently available and closing Sulivan increases that shortfall.
Why would they do this? Why Sulivan?
At a public meeting Ian Heggs, Triborough Director for Schools, said that the reason Sulivan was chosen over New Kings for closure was because they liked the vision New Kings had laid out to them. New Kings had told the Council they wanted to be an academy with Thomas’ Day Schools. The Council then consulted on the ‘amalgamation’of the two schools, http://www.lbhf.gov.uk//Directory/Council_and_Democracy/Committee_reports_minutes_and_agendas/Committee_and_Cabinet_member_decisions/homepage.asp?mgpage=ieDecisionDetails.aspx%26amp%3BID%3D2033 making Sulivan the school to be closed, and – coincidentally – making the site available for a secondary boys CofE school.
The consultation is viewed by many as a farce and results were ignored and skewed to fit the wants of the Council. Even letters from Steven Greenhalgh, former LBHF Tory leader and Chair of Governors at the only remaining comprehensive secondary school (400m down the road) expressed concern for his school if the plan went ahead but was counted in the report as being ‘in favour’ of closing Sulivan. All freedom of Information Act requests were refused on the grounds that they would take too long to answer with some controversy about whether or not ordinary requests for information should have been counted as ‘FOIA’ in that count.. The only information that would be made available was the flawed data presented in the consultation (even they corrected it – after the consultation was finished and closure proceedings went ahead).
61.4% of all respondents on the LBHF form disagreed with the proposal
69% of local respondents to the other 3,604 petition responses (ignored by Council in count) disagreed with the proposal
86% of the parents of the two schools involved disagreed with the proposal
81% of residents identified on the LBHF form disagreed with the proposal
The 101 pupils who responded didn’t get counted: 100% of pupils disagreed with the proposal
NO letters were counted unless attached to a form – and none of the 3600 odd petition responses in opposition were counted whatsoever – even though almost half were LBHF residents. However, supporters of FBS from throughout the UK were counted, even if nothing but a tick and a partial postcode. As long as they filled in one of the forms that – even the Council admits – were given in extra supply to them. Opposition still had a majority – and if they included the petition, it would have been a landslide….so obviously they decided to not count it.
Who are the parents in support? The consultation report material http://www.lbhf.gov.uk//Directory/Council_and_Democracy/Committee_reports_minutes_and_agendas/Committee_and_Cabinet_member_decisions/homepage.asp?mgpage=ieDecisionDetails.aspx%26amp%3BID%3D2033 admits they are from the Fulham Boys Free School and didn’t necessarily comment on the amalgamation. They account for over 95% of the responses.
When the opposition is highlighted to them, they ignore the data and agree it must be difficult for Sulivan’s families and then say ‘we have to listen to the desires of parents who want the Free School as well’. There is heavy opposition that is being ignored, and there no data to suggest that closing Sulivan is the best way to deal with places surplus even if there wasn’t an imminent need for more places – but LBHF had already decided this site was perfect for the Fulham Boys Free School.
Who is Fulham Boys Free School?
Fulham Boys Free School is an LDBS sponsored school with oversubscription criteria that make it a 50% faith place school for boys.
Fulham Boys School can’t find a site and closing Sulivan provides them one. Helen Binmore reiterates this in meetings, and the consultation documentation was full of the ‘added benefit’ of freeing up the site for the Free School.They called this ‘being transparent’. Fulham Boys supporters were out campaigning hard with extra consultation forms provided to them for the purpose. They were spotted outside churches on Sunday morning, outside schools very far North in the Borough. They claimed they had no opinion on the closure of Sulivan but would like the site if it were available, and they petitioned hard in person and online to encourage people to use the comments box to let the Council know they would be interested in the site. Of course the vast majority saw that the ‘close Sulivan’ box would need to be ticked for this to happen. Helen Binmore refused to properly answered under three repeated pressings how the consultation responses would be counted if they were only ‘in support of Fulham Boys School’.
Throughout this process Sulivan applied to become an academy – with the LDBS. The LDBS wrote to the Council http://saveoursulivan.org/campaign/ldbs-letter-council-support-sulivan/ saying “ln conclusion, we Wish to re-iterate that in putting children first, the LDBS does not think it is right
that a growing successful school should be deprived of its school site which is in a good location for the community it serves and that the likely disruption to the education of the pupils has not been adequately addressed.” The LDBS does not normally get involved in the selection of a new school site; that is a matter for the DfE, the LA and the Founders. But the letter expresses concern that the Council hadn’t offered more possibilities for sites for the Free School. The local Imam expressed similar concerns. The Council refused support of the academy application http://saveoursulivan.org/communications/andrew-christies-letter-sulivan-academy-proposal/ stating that it did not think that becoming an LDBS school would make Sulivan more popular (despite LDBS’s long track record of popular and successful schools in inner London) – but did think that New Kings’ partnership with Thomas’ Day School would be successful (despite Thomas’ never having sponsored an academy, not being an academy sponsor, and having no experience of inner London comprehensive schools). They also expressed concern at the cost to the sponsor of refitting Sulivan (despite it not affecting LBHF, despite LDBS already knowing the £780K tag, and knowing that it will cost local taxpayers £2.5M to refit New Kings!) It has been suggested that this ‘new amalgamated school’ would become a Feeder to the Fulham Boys Free School.
Very sadly the DfE decided that it would not decide upon the application until the Council’s reorganisation proposal was concluded, despite Sulivan fitting virtually all of the criteria ‘desired’ in an academy converter and with a sponsor with a huge successful track record in London primary school support.
This merger has been so sewn up that the New Kings Headteacher had already been appointed to lead both schools before Sulivan even knew about the proposal. This indicates that another deal has been struck by the council with the Thomas’ Day Schools group who are hoping to do some empire building in the community schools sector. They appear to have been in contact and collaboration with ARK and the New Kings letter of representation discusses ‘brokered deals’ for new collaborations throughout the Tri-borough area. Three weeks before the consultation is to close New Kings school is selling off it’s uniform stock at half off – and they have only done that once before – when they were changing the school logo.
The entire debacle is viewed as it probably appears: In pitting the academy and free school vision against itself, it appears Sulivan is being sacrificed to make way for Fulham Boys Free School and the Thomas’ partnership with primaries like New Kings.
The Council is ignoring the consultation response, ignoring their own places data, ignoring their own place predictions, ignoring building surveys stating Sulivan has a long life left in it, and even saying most staff will have jobs in the new school (which is impossible and financially impractical). Inexplicably the Council would like all schools to be oversubscribed. They then argue that parents sending a child to their second choice school means that the school must be failing. Sulivan is a school which has supported the community for a very long time and celebrates it’s diversity and the opportunities it brings to a very wide spectrum of the community – and is in high demand and especially in comparison to local schools in the area. The aim is to replace it with a free school whose criteria will make it half selective on religious grounds. This will destroy Sulivan and it’s service to the community and is also predicted to clear out the last comprehensive secondary in Fulham which lays just 400m down the same road – and if New Kings becomes a feeder to Fulham Boys Free School, this will significantly disrupt access to education for local children who don’t ‘fit the bill’. Many of the ‘supporting free school’ responses are very ‘anti- community’ in feel – everything from ‘the primary is an EXCELLENT school but it is very multi ethnic and I wouldn’t send my child there’ to sentiments about selling a kidney in order to avoid sending their child to a local state school (the nearest of which is rated outstanding – but is ‘community’)
AND OF COURSE….THE POLITICS
Hammersmith & Fulham Council are determined to become Michael Gove’s ‘flagship borough’ and the two Councillors involved in education and children’s services, Cllr Helen Binmore and Cllr Georgie Cooney appear to be the most driven in this ideological crusade. Helen Binmore used to be Cabinet Member for both Childrens’ Services and Education but mere weeks before this consultation Georgie Cooney was made Cabinet Member for Education.
What the Free School wants, the Free School must have; even though the LDBS, also partners to the Free School, have publicly and regularly stated their abhorrence at the treatment of Sulivan.
Andrew Christie, Director of Tri-Borough Children’s Services assured Sulivan that the consultation was not about the Free School and that they only sought the views of local people on the merger. This was untrue.
The Council put up the statutory closure notices at the end of October (albeit with no associated documentation) and the consultation closes on December 11th.
The decision will be put to the vote in Cabinet in January.
There is a petition being signed by people across the borough.
An open letter of protest is being sent to the Council signed by the majority of primary and secondary Headteachers in the Borough.
Sulivan’s local Imam has been to a Council Meeting to personally present a letter on behalf of concerned Moslem families who feel utterly disenfranchised by the proposal.
Local MPs from both sides of the House have been asked to intervene.
The LDBS continues to support Sulivan.
We continue to campaign vigorously
The consultation on the closure notice finishes on 11th December and Sulivan School will be campaigning beyond.
Twitter @saveoursulivan, hashtag #teamsulivan
QUOTES FROM VARIOUS INTERESTED PARTIES
“..we wish to re-iterate that in putting children first, the LDBS does not think it is right that a growing successful school should be deprived of its school site which is a good location for the community it serves..”
Letter to the Council from Inigo Woolf, CEO LDBS
“…the potential for disruption to learning for all the pupils from both schools is not one that LDBS would countenance in its own family of schools.”
Letter to the Council from Inigo Woolf, CEO LDBS
“What can’t be overlooked is that a key element of this proposal is the provision of a new site for Fulham Boys CofE School.”
Miles Chester, Head of New Kings School speaking at public meeting
“It was the Council’s view that the Fulham Boys’ Free School proposal is a separate issue. The Council is not carrying out a consultation in respect of that proposal. In law it does not have that locus.”
Letter to Sulivan from Andrew Christie, Tri Borough Director of Children’s Services
“Our second requirement was that Miles agreed to remain Head for the foreseeable future” Tobyn Thomas, Thomas’ Day Schools, speaking at public meeting
“I understand Miles and Tobyn discussing together the future, but discussing together and coming to the agreement that Miles had to be the Head…in all my years of being associated with the LA I have never, ever, heard of such a thing. When did the authority cease to [have regard to] equal opportunities?”
Revd Gary Piper, Retired Vicar of St Matthew’s Church, Fulham
and ex-Headteacher speaking at public meeting
‘Our vision is to create as green an environment as possible, with good open spaces; we want strong education, so kids come out of school and into work and not onto the scrapheap’
Nick Botterill – Leader of Hammersmith & Fulham Council
“What is left for the primary children in this part of the Borough? Either they go to a school they don’t want to, or they go to one of two failing schools.” Sulivan Governor
“I do not want Sulivan to close because all the children here have so many fantastic opportunities to grow. I love taking part in concerts, my guitar lessons and playing in the netball team. It would be very sad…”
Rania – Pupil at Sulivan