I'm a parent at Gladstone Park Primary School in Brent, which has always previously been rated by Ofsted as good or outstanding, but at the latest inspection in November was astonishingly rated as “inadequate”. This follows a change in Ofsted’s rules last summer whereby the school as a whole is rated according to the worst feature found, and the inspectors decided that pupils’ progress in Years 3, 4 and 5 was not fast enough.
This is despite children entering the school with below average levels of literacy and numeracy (most children speak English as an additional language, and we have a higher than national average percentages with SENs and entitled to free school meals) and leaving with levels above average - for example, twice the national average achieve Level 6 in Maths SATs at KS2. In my view, the inspectors were told the result in advance, then sent in to find whatever evidence they could to fit it.
Before even reading the Ofsted report, and before even the staff and governors were informed, a hired contractor ("broker") turned up at the school and said the DfE was going to force it into becoming an academy and choose its "sponsor". She said that the only “decision” the DfE would allow the governors to make is on whether to become an academy at all, and in other cases where governors have voted against this, the DfE has dismissed them and replaced them with an Interim Executive Board appointed by the "sponsor". The parents would get even less say – the "broker" said we were not to be “consulted” until after the governors’ “decision”, and this would consist of a presentation where we could ask questions but couldn’t change anything.
However, a wave of protests have forced the DfE to back off. There have been three large meetings at the school, each attended by over 100 parents, to discuss the Ofsted report and academy plans. At each meeting, the overwhelming majority was against any plan to become an academy. All the staff have signed a petition against academisation.
A Parents Action Group has been set up, a petition against academisation has been signed by hundreds of parents, and a large protest held outside school, reported in the Independent, Guardian, Standard, and local paper Kilburn Times. We have linked up with other schools in the same situation (notably Roke Primary in Croydon), forming Parents Against Forced Academisation, and got the public support of several Brent councillors and local MP Sarah Teather. Parents from Gladstone Park and Roke were on the NUT demonstration on 15th March and spoke on the BBC's Sunday Politics show on 18th March.
Two self-imposed deadlines for the DfE to announce its proposed "sponsor" have come and gone. The original deadline for the governors’ “decision” following announcement of the "sponsor" was 28th February, but we have still heard nothing. It looks like the DfE are having difficulty finding a "sponsor" in the face of our determined and public opposition, and they also have their own widely-reported internal difficulties.
Gladstone Park Primary School is an excellent local community school (which is why it was targeted for academisation in the first place), and the majority of parents, staff and governors want it to stay that way. By sharing our experiences, we hope that we can encourage other schools in the same situation to stand up against DfE bullying and their not very well concealed programme of creeping privatisation.
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