The local school being bullied into becoming an Academy

Francis Gilbert's picture
An anonymous supporter told the LSN this story. It's a fascinating account which shows how local children can be short-changed when Academies are set up in and around their area.

Here it is:

Kelsey Park Sports College is in Bromley, one of the most well to do of all the London boroughs. It is situated in Manor Way, Beckenham, a fantastically middle class road, in which the cheapest house would cost well in excess of a million pounds.

However, not all parts of Bromley are as wealthy as Beckenham and, as Kelsey is the nearest boys school to the more working class areas of Penge and Anerley to the north of the Borough, historically its intake has been skewed towards these less well off areas. It is ranked by the Department as being in the seventeenth out of twenty-three families of London schools when mapped against various indices of deprivation.

As has been covered in the TES, the school’s GCSE cohort in 2009 was affected by the wholesale import of fifty pupils from outside the school, some of whom had multiple difficulties, in year 9. These children made up a full third of the cohort. As a result, in that one year alone results fell just below the floor target and a new OFSTED inspection regime, clearly undergoing teething problems, were hamstrung by those results to give the school ‘notice to improve’.

These results were an aberration: last year, the school recorded 46% of pupils achieving 5 A* - C grades including English and maths. This would put them towards the top of the attainment tables for schools with similar intakes.

This entirely explainable one-year blip appears to have opened up notions of opportunity amongst academy providers. Harris Academies, who run a number of academies in neighbouring boroughs and whose appetite to take over pastures new resembles that of a wolf salivating over an injured lamb, have expressed an interest to take over Kelsey Park Sports College.

Entirely coincidentally, a group of eager parents, (only two of whom appear ever to have entered the gates of the Sports College; one of whom reported herself “happy” and “enthused,” and none of whom have children at the school), have set up a campaign to have it taken over by Harris Academies. For parents of primary school age students they are astonishingly well informed as to process and, in particular, the plans that the Harris Academies might have for the school. They have amassed an astounding (!) number of signatures on a petition and seek to have the school converted into a co-educational academy, their preferred provider being Harris.

One might make an argument, (and I am sure the campaign group would venture this) that this is local democracy in action. However, it appears to be an example of local democracy that involves a large and well funded organization, who are close to government, the head of whom is a Conservative party donor, ignoring the fact that in a democracy everyone gets a vote.

The likely results of conversion to a co-educational academy are that the catchment area of the school will shrink: by admitting girls, 450 places for boys will disappear over the space of five years. Given that admissions will be dictated by proximity to the academy, the places at the school taken by those boys who live in working class Penge will be taken by students who live nearer the school. Fair enough one might argue, until one examines the impact for the boys from Penge who would otherwise expect to attend the school. If they are no longer allowed to attend their local school, they will be forced into either an eight mile round trip to Ravensbourne or a ten mile round trip to Ravenswood. The demographic of Penge suggest this to be a substantial expectation of working class parents who may well not be able to afford such travel costs; that is, of course, if those schools were able to accommodate the displaced children.

This situation is a powerful argument for families of school being controlled by the local authority, who have a responsibility to educate the whole borough, and the London Borough of Bromley has historically been very good at understanding that the two schools that serve the poorer communities in the North of the borough are valuable members of the family of schools. Recent rushed through policy changes have given the sharp elbowed middle classes a substantially increased sense of their own entitlement. Sadly, this sense of entitlement, does not appear to be complicated by any respect for the rights of working class children in poorer communities to attend their local school.
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