MP and top councillor join Sherington teachers to oppose academy plan

Sherington Primary School
The future of Sherington School is being discussed

Greenwich & Woolwich MP Matt Pennycook and Greenwich Council’s deputy leader David Gardner have joined teachers in opposing plans for Sherington Primary School to become an academy.

Letters from Pennycook and Gardner were given to parents outside the school gate today, urging them to think carefully about the school’s plans for the future – and pointing out that once a school becomes an academy, it can’t switch back to council control if anything goes wrong.

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(Read the letters from Matt Pennycook and David Gardner.)

Pennycook said “I know of no pressing challenges that require the school to change its existing structure” while Gardner wrote: “Academisation is a trip into the unknown, it is a one-way street with no turning back. If the academy chain fails, it just gets eaten up by another unaccountable chain. If the local council falls short in its support, we can be held to account.”

It was revealed in September that the school was talking to the Leigh and Compass academy trusts about joining them, and Rochester-based Leigh is now seen as the likely choice.

Teachers have already written to its governing body outlining their concerns at plans for the school to explore joining Leigh, which runs Crown Woods Academy in Eltham, Halley Academy in Kidbrooke (the old Corelli College/Kidbrooke School) and the new Leigh Academy Blackheath.

The signatories – understood to be the full teaching staff except for the school’s Senior Leadership Team (SLT) and some teaching assistants – say that they have not yet been included in “an open discussion with the SLT” and that they are “nervous” about the proposed. The Charlton Champion understands that the teachers have not yet had a response to the letter.

Sherington did not respond to a request for comment, but the school recently published a set of FAQs about the proposals. This website understands that a decision on the school’s future is due to be made by the end of this term.

A petition asking for the school to kept under Greenwich Council control has over 900 signatures.

Parents raised the issue at the last full meeting of Greenwich Council. (Watch here.) Asked if he thought joining Leigh Academies Trust would be a “wise” idea, Gardner said: “I do not think it would be a wise choice to join a multi-academy trust.

“I’m not sure that Leigh Academies Trust is the best example of an academy trust in terms of its top-slice [the money the academy charges the school for its services] and its performance but that is a matter for the governors. I hope before they go down that road, they consult with parents and staff and fully take on board their views and have a ballot as well.”

Pressed on whether the council would hold a ballot itself, Gardner said it would be “supportive of extensive consultation… and would urge the governors to hold a ballot”.


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‘Say no to Sherington becoming an academy’: School campaigners launch petition

Sherington Primary School
Governors are looking at options for Sherington’s future

Campaigners have launched a petition against plans to turn Sherington Primary School into an academy, taking it out of Greenwich Council’s control.

The school’s governors are looking at options for the school’s future which could include becoming part of an academy chain.

In a letter issued to parents last month, the school confirmed it was considering its future arrangements because “we can’t sit back and let the future take care of itself”.

Local MP Matt Pennycook, who attended a meeting of parents and staff at Charlton House last night, has said he is “puzzled and concerned” by the move.

“I know of no pressing challenges that require this outstanding local school to consider altering its existing structure, let alone a robust case for rushing toward a decision in principle to convert to an academy in the near future,” he said after the news broke.

The petition can be found at https://www.change.org/p/sherington-governing-body-we-say-no-to-sherington-primary-converting-to-an-academy.


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Campaign launched to stop Sherington Primary School becoming an academy

Sherington Primary School
Campaigners say Sherington will suffer if it becomes an academy

Updated story: A row has broken out about the future of Sherington Primary School after a teaching union revealed it was in talks about possibly becoming an academy.

The school is currently under Greenwich Council control, but the National Education Union – the successor to the old National Union of Teachers – says it is due to start talks with the Leigh and Compass academy trusts.

In a letter issued to parents on Tuesday, the school has confirmed it is considering its future arrangements because “we can’t sit back and let the future take care of itself”.

One angry parent, Vicky Makepeace, has organised a meeting for fellow parents at Charlton House this Thursday (27th) at 10am.

She says: “My older two boys did really well at Sherington and enjoyed their time there. I want my youngest two children to have that experience.

“Turning the school into an academy will take away parents’ rights, kids’ rights and teachers’ rights. The school is not underachieving, academies don’t care about children with special needs, these kids will get pushed out by the academy or they will not support them. Sherington has caring teachers, support team and parents.”

‘No turning back’

Greenwich Council’s deputy leader David Gardner – who is also cabinet member for education – urged Sherington to stay with the council. He said the borough’s primary schools have “an excellent record” and Sherington had “thrived as an outstanding school rooted in the local community”.

He warned: “Academisation is not only a trip into the unknown, it is a one-way street with no turning back. If the academy chain fails, it just gets eaten up by another unaccountable chain. If the local council falls short in its support, we can be held to account; and as a community school it is run by its head and governors, not a remote chief executive.”

Leigh runs a number of schools and colleges in south-east London and north-west Kent, including Crown Woods Academy in Eltham, Halley Academy in Kidbrooke (the old Corelli College/Kidbrooke School) and the Leigh Academy Blackheath, which is due to take over the old Blackheath Bluecoat site. Compass runs schools in Greenwich borough including Halstow in east Greenwich, South Rise and Willow Dene in Plumstead and Wingfield in Kidbrooke.

The union says there are no plans to consult staff, and a decision could be made as soon as November.

‘Outstanding primary school’

Asked for comment on the story, Sherington head Karen Dennett sent The Charlton Champion a letter which has been issued to parents, inviting them to a presentation from an “independent education advisor” on 17 October.

It reads: “Sherington is an outstanding primary school. Our children make excellent academic progress, as shown by our results, and our broad curriculum fosters creativity and confidence.

“We’re determined to maintain our high standards, so we can’t sit back and let the future take care of itself. The Governing Body and Senior Leadership Team are obliged to keep their eyes on the horizon and set a strategic direction in the best interests of the school.

“With this in mind, the Governing Body and Senior Leadership team have been reviewing some alternative models for the way the school could in future be structured and funded.”

It adds that it hopes to make a decision by Christmas.

Academisation – where schools receive their funding directly from central government rather than a local council – has shot up the local political agenda in recent months after John Roan School in Blackheath was ordered to become an academy after being judged to be “inadequate” by inspectors from Ofsted. Campaigners are currently fighting the order, which would see it link up with the Mile End-based University Schools Trust chain, which runs the Greenwich Trust School on Woolwich Road.

(Story updated at 4pm on Tuesday to include Sherington’s confirmation and its letter to parents.)

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