Parents in Penge, South London, who want to send their child to their local school are being effectively denied any meaningful preference since the Harris Federation now runs the four main secondary schools that serve the area. To adapt Henry Ford’s famous maxim to this area parents can choose any local school they want as a long as it is a Harris Academy.
Harris City Academy Crystal Palace was a former City Technology College and has been long established in the area. The Harris Federation took over Harris Academy South Norwood in 2006 and turned the previous all-boys school into a mixed sex one. Both schools are located in the Croydon borough, both are over-subscribed and both are judged by Ofsted as Outstanding.
Concerns have raised about the inclusivity of both schools. In 2010 Harris Crystal Palace was criticised for refusing to admit a disabled pupil
and Harris South Norwood is the top excluding school in Croydon in respect of the number of permanent exclusions, with 10 in 2009/10
From September 2011 the Harris Federation took over Harris Academy Bromley (previously Cator Park School) and Harris Academy Beckenham (previously Kelsey Park Sports College) in the western part of Bromley borough.
Kelsey Park was an all boys school, located in Beckenham but had traditionally drawn it pupils from the West Beckenham/Penge area. The school was recently given notice to improve by Ofsted but had come through that and received a satisfactory Ofsted judgement. Kelsey Park was undersubscribed and the school had been subject to a campaign by parents (Harris into Beckenham) whose children attend local primary schools lobbied for the school to be taken over by Harris. This followed a leaflet campaign by the Harris Federation in the local area.
The Harris Federation had also put in an application to open a Free School in Beckenham, a move which also added to the pressure on the school
. The governors were considering various academy options, but were reluctant to join the Harris Federation. However pressure became too great and Kelsey Park’s governors eventually decided to join the Harris Federation and the school became Harris Academy Beckenham.
From September 2012 Harris Academy Beckenham has undertaken a number of measures to change its intake. It has moved from being all-boys school to one that is mixed sex and will admit girls and boys into year 7 from 2012. It has also changed its oversubsciption criteria. The school no longer prioritising siblings in its admission criteria and, despite the consultation responses indicating a desire for otherwise, distance from the school would be measured from the school and not from a point closer to the community it had traditionally drawn its pupils from
. The effect of both these measure will be to make it harder in the event of oversubscription for those resident in West Beckenham and especially Penge to be admitted to the school.
Cator Park was an oversubscribed all girls school in West Beckenham. It had an overall satisfactory Ofsted judgement, though within that there were many aspects judged as good. The school’s opted to join the Harris Federation around the same time as Kelsey Park. The school was invited to join when it was still unclear whether or not Kelsey Park’s governors would vote to join the Federation. The proposed Harris Free School would have also affected Cator Park. From September 2011 Cator Park became Harris Academy Bromley.
The head teacher from Harris Academy South Norwood was appointed Executive Principal of both the new Academies.
Once both schools had agreed to join the Harris Federation the Free School application was withdrawn. A more cynical person would wonder whether the Harris Federation ever really wanted to open a Free School and whether it was just Trojan horse to ensure Kelsey Park and/or Cator Park joined the Harris Federation.
Despite assurances given at the time that the schools would retain their autonomy and would build on the work of the predecessor schools both former head teachers have since left their posts
and new heads installed. The former head of Kelsey Park left his post before the new Academy opened and the former head of Cator Park left the new Academy only a few weeks into the term. A recent newsletter has shown that at Harris Academy Bromley a further twelve staff left at Christmas
Harris Academy Bromley recently had their Ofsted inspection and it was clear from the tone of that that many parents remain unconvinced about the changes being made to the school
Some people would say parents here are lucky having their four local schools run by the Harris Federation and no doubt the majority of the children who attend them will receive a good education, as would have been the case in their predecessor schools. However I am concerned about the Harris Federation being the sole education provider in the area for two reasons. Firstly if you do not subscribe to the Harris ethos what options do you as a parent have to express a meaningful preference regarding your child’s secondary school and when one provider has near monopoly status in an area surely this undermines the Government’s stated desire that competition will drive up standards.
Previously parents in this area could express a preference for a range of schools, including ones run by the Harris Federation. They could express a meaningful preference and the diversity of provision helped incentivise improved performance. Under local authority ‘control’ Local Management of Schools meant head teachers were free to develop and run their schools how they saw fit. However when you want your child to go to a local school you want to look at those available to you in your community and decide which has the curriculum, ethos and values that best suit your child. When all the schools are run on the same basis and have the same underlying ethos you are effectively denied choice and any sense of parental preference is rendered almost meaningless.