Downhills academy decision ‘rides roughshod’ over Tottenham community

15:45 21 June 2012

Education secretary Michael Gove has been accused of using Tottenham schoolchildren as

Education secretary Michael Gove has been accused of using Tottenham schoolchildren as 'Guinea pigs'.

PA Archive/Press Association Images

Frustrated disbelief has met the news that Downhills primary school is to be forcibly converted into an academy from September, under the wing of sponsor the Harris Federation.

Last night the school’s interim executive board (IEB), put in place by education secretary Michael Gove in March, resolved to press ahead with conversion to academy status in a 20-page report - ignoring the wishes of 94 per cent of those who responded to its consultation.

David Lammy, MP for Tottenham, said he was “surprised” by the decision, and school leaders now face the task of bringing round an “alienated” community.

A spokeswoman for Save Downhills, which has run a vociferous campaign to keep the school under local authority control despite poor Ofsted reports, said: “We are outraged that the secretary of state has ridden roughshod over the wishes of the local community.”

School parent Elsa Dechaux said: “Why did Michael Gove waste everybody’s time and over £45,000 of public money consulting us and then engineer the results? This government talks about parent choice, localism and the ‘big society’, but our voice has been ignored.

“They wanted to privatise Downhills from the start and now our community’s school has been handed on a plate to Lord Harris.”

Former Children’s Laureate Michael Rosen, who joined parents and staff on a strike protesting against enforced academy conversion, told the Journal today: “It’s the act of someone using the powers given to him by democracy to behave like a dictator.”

Mr Lammy said: “This is a surprising decision given the weight of opinion against becoming an academy.

“The interests of the Downhills pupils are paramount. I will be looking closely at the Harris Academy leadership to make sure that they never forget that.

“I will also be seeking assurances from them about how they intend to re-engage with the staff, parents and vibrant community that surrounds the school that has been so alienated by the actions of the Department for Education over the last six months.”

Bruce Grove councillor Joseph Ejiofor was heavily critical of the move, branding the decision “hypocrisy and an outrageous abuse of power”.

He added: “Gove talks about consultation, but this decision ignores parents’ wishes, and is part of the Tories’ ideological drive to privatise the provision of public services.

“We have seen what they are doing to the health service, what they are planning to do privatising parts of the police service; Gove is using Tottenham children as Guinea pigs to trial their plans to privatise education provision.

“Nobody is making excuses for poor performance, but there is no evidence that forcing a school to become an academy will improve its performance, especially when two per cent of its budget can be creamed off by the sponsor for ‘administration’.”

Many parents in his ward have children attending the school in Philip Lane and have lobbied him hard, he said.

“[They] love the school and care passionately about their children’s education, but they want to retain democratic accountability and a meaningful stake in running the school.

“This decision will finally break the link between the school and the local community, since it is now clear that any consultation or engagement with the local community will be meaningless.”

A Haringey Council spokesperson said: “We will continue to work closely with Downhills and with all our schools, whether they are judged as being good or outstanding or if they’re on a journey of improvement.

“We’ve consistently said becoming an academy should be ultimately a decision for schools following proper consultation with parents who need to be convinced it is the right solution and not simply told it is.”

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