Sherington Primary School’s governors scrap academy plan

Sherington Primary School
Sherington’s governors came to their decision yesterday

Governors at Sherington Primary School have scrapped plans to break away from council control and become an academy, parents have been told this morning.

Teachers and local councillors had campaigned against the proposal, which would have seen the highly-regarded school join the Leigh Academies Trust chain.

But a letter from the school’s governing body states that while the school faces “challenges” in the future, “we are better placed to address them as a local authority maintained school than as part of the Leigh Academies Trust”.

The school will now remain controlled by Greenwich Council – and be directly funded by it – rather than breaking away and joining the Kent-based Leigh chain, and getting its cash from central government.

The letter says: “We promised to make this choice in the best interests of children now and in the future. That meant choosing the option that gave us the best prospect of financial sustainability and stability; the strongest opportunities for the recruitment, retention and development of high quality staff; and the best chance of delivering a sustainable school in a changing environment. The Governing Body has concluded that while these challenges remain, we are better placed to address them as a local authority maintained school than as part of the Leigh Academies Trust.

“Sherington is a great school, but there is some hard work to be done to make sure we stay that way and remain fit for the future. Working in partnerships with other schools and organisations is already an important part of the school’s operating model, and will become more so. We look forward to working closely with the Royal Borough of Greenwich, and to making the most of the partnership opportunities and other support they can provide.

“We would like to thank the staff of the Leigh Academies Trust for the candid and helpful information they have provided and also the parents, carers and staff who have asked questions, presented views and taken part in an emotive debate over the last few weeks.

“This has not been an easy process by any means, but it’s important that we are able to show our Sherington children that we can have difficult conversations and conduct them in a courteous, respectful and positive way.”

Documents outlining how the governors came to their decision have been published on the school website.

Parents had feared that teachers would take strike action if the school had opted to become an academy, with the issue also causing strains inside Greenwich Council: last week deputy leader David Gardner apologised to Leigh, which runs 18 schools in SE London and Kent, for criticism of its academic results in a letter sent to parents.

Teachers had also raised concerns about the plans, along with local MP Matt Pennycook. A petition against the proposal, handed in earlier this week, had over 900 signatures.

Friday update:
Local Democracy Reporter Tom Bull writes: Greenwich Council deputy leader and cabinet member for education David Gardner said: “It is brilliant and very welcome news that Sherington Primary School governing body has voted to continue as an outstanding Greenwich community school.

“Governors decisively rejected academisation and, after a long and rigorous process evaluating all the options, and decided the best partnership remained with the borough.

“My personal congratulations to the parents, staff and Charlton community who campaigned so effectively to stay ‘Greenwich and proud’.”


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Greenwich Council deputy leader apologises to academy chain over Sherington letter

David Gardner
David Gardner on a recent visit to Charlton Manor School (photo: twitter.com/david_llew)

Charlton Champion exclusive: Greenwich Council deputy leader David Gardner has apologised to the academy chain hoping to run a Charlton primary school after criticising it in a letter issued to parents.

Sherington Primary School is in talks with Leigh Academies Trust about becoming joining its academy chain, which includes 18 schools across south-east London and Kent.

Earlier this month, parents at the highly-regarded school were handed letters from Gardner, which criticised the chain’s academic record. The letter was also published on The Charlton Champion.

But now Gardner, who is cabinet member for education, has backtracked on his criticism, with Greenwich Council saying “the words … could have been better chosen”.

In the letter, Gardner told parents that Greenwich had a strong record in running primary schools and there was “no pot of gold at the end of the academy rainbow”. He also criticised the high salaries paid to the chief executives and directors of academy chains, taken from a 5-10% “top slicing” of school budgets going towards their central funds, adding that Greenwich schools only paid 1% into central funds.

He also said: “Leigh Academy Trust does not have a good record. Its two secondary schools in Greenwich are among the worst performers and their primary record outside the borough does not match Greenwich’s performance.”

Leigh runs two Greenwich schools for which results are available – a third, Leigh Academy Blackheath, opened in Woolwich in September, and plans to eventually occupy the former Blackheath Bluecoat School site close to Sherington.

The first Leigh school, Stationers’ Crown Woods Academy in Eltham, has a Progress 8 – a measure of children’s progress between the ages of 11 and 16 – rating of “well below average”. But it has only run its second school, Halley Academy – the former Kidbrooke comprehensive school – since March 2018. Before that, it was known as Corelli College, and had also scored “well below average”.

Apologised to Leigh

Sherington Primary School
Sherington is a highly-regarded primary school

A Greenwich Council spokesperson told The Charlton Champion: “Cllr Gardner has played an active role supporting Sherington parents and staff wishing to remain as an outstanding community school. In this respect he has made some comments about comparative performance with an academy trust in Full Council and at a public meeting. He was asked to supply the thrust of his speech to parents which was then circulated.

“On reflection, Cllr Gardner realised the words used in the letter of what he said at the public meeting should have been better chosen and apologised himself to the Leigh MAT [multi -academy trust] accordingly. The main issue being that Leigh acquired The Halley Academy on 1 March 2018 (the former Corelli Academy). GCSE results for Corelli College in 2018 belong to the former Trust which operated the school and not Leigh.

“Further, the council recognise that Leigh has made a real effort to turn around Halley this year to improve the outcomes and life chances for our young people at that school. It also recognises the successful launch of Leigh Academy Blackheath which is already proving to be a popular local choice for parents.”

The council did not comment on whether Leigh Academies Trust had complained about Gardner’s statement. The trust itself has not responded to a request for comment from The Charlton Champion.

Strains inside Greenwich Council

While Greenwich Council’s Labour administration has sought to present a united front over academisation, Gardner’s apology highlights the strains between different factions within the Labour group over the issue.

Councillors and members on the left of the party are fiercely opposed to schools being taken out of local authority control and handed to academy chains that are directly funded by central government, and want the council to do more to oppose the likes of Sherington and John Roan schools becoming academies.

But the council’s leadership, which is on the right of the party, has attempted to build bridges with the chains while criticising the government’s policy of forcing “failing” schools to become academies.

Left-leaning members accuse the council of privately backing academies. A letter written by Gardner’s predecessor Miranda Williams to school governors in 2016 stated the council “has a pragmatic view on academies” and that schools “have benefited from the capacity created by school partnerships”. But last month, the council voed to “resist further academisation”.

Gardner, who fits in neither camp, has attempted to bridge the two positions in what is widely regarded as an extremely difficult role.

Campaigners against the potential academisation of Sherington primary school delivered a petition to the school governors on Monday

Parents at Sherington are fearing strikes as the row over possible academisation escalates. 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.

A mile away at John Roan secondary school in Blackheath, which faces becoming part of the University Schools Trust chain after a poor Ofsted rating, pupils have already lost two days of education because of industrial action, although plans for three more were called off last week.


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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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