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Thursday, 14 July 2016
Teachers ignored as governors vote to turn special school into an academy reports Islington Tribune
Teachers ignored as governors vote to turn special school into an academy
Published: 8 July, 2016
by JOE COOPER
TEACHERS were left feeling ignored last night (Thursday) as governors voted in favour of converting an “outstanding” special needs school into an academy against their wishes.
The governing body at The Bridge London, which has two sites in Holloway, voted to break away from council control after a heated meeting and overwhelming opposition from its teaching staff.
Paul Atkin, from Islington National Union of Teachers (NUT), said it was a “sad day” for Islington schools.
A source told the Tribune he had had reports of 15 members of staff handing in their notice in the wake of the vote, although this had not been confirmed last night.
In a secret ballot in May, 119 teachers and teaching assistants voted against the plan, with just one in favour. But the final say was held by governors who held a vote on Wednesday.
As a borough, Islington has largely managed to avoid the sweeping national trend for converting from traditional council control to academy status.
The Bridge has tried once before to make the change, but at that time governors voted against the plan after a campaign by teachers and parents.
The Tribune understands Wednesday’s vote was split, with at least two of the 14-strong governing body voting against.
The Bridge London, whose headteacher is Penny Barratt, runs an Islington council-maintained primary school on the same site as Hungerford Primary School, and a secondary school on the same site as Holloway School. Both are rated “outstanding” by Ofsted.
The vote has raised fears that The Bridge’s close working relationship with those schools will be jeopardised.
Mr Atkin told the Tribune: “The Bridge was built by Islington on shared sites with Hungerford and Holloway schools so that special and mainstream schools could work closely together. The overlap of sites is now an administrative nightmare to unravel as The Bridge becomes unaccountable to the local community and subject to company law.
“Two academy trusts a month are being reported to the Department for Education for financial irregularities. If The Bridge becomes one of them the consequence is forced incorporation into a larger Academy Trust. This would be the end for the school’s distinctive ethos. Staff are concerned that this is a risky venture.”
Barry Edwards, a governor at Hungerford, said the two schools shared a playground and kitchen. “There could be considerable problems,” he said, adding that “lots of money” could end up in the hands of lawyers as The Bridge seeks autonomy. “That has nothing to do with kids getting a better education,” he said.
The Bridge has said it wants all its facilities to become part of a new, autonomous trust free from Town Hall control to allow “opportunities for cost savings on non-teaching and learning issues” and “greater investment in teaching and learning”.
In a consultation document, the school said: “There is a pressing need for an increased number of special school places for pupils with autism.”
Town Hall education chief Joe Caluori said: “I’m really disappointed that the governors have taken this decision, especially as staff were overwhelmingly against it. I haven’t seen any evidence of enthusiasm for it from the parents. I feel for a decision this big it would have been much better for parents to have been more involved than they have been in the process. However, we still see The Bridge as an important part of our community of schools in Islington and we know the headteacher sees it that way as well.”
The governing body had yet to make a statement last night, but Ms Barratt said earlier this year: “We are looking at what structure would best allow us to meet the needs of our pupils. Governors will take all views into account when they take their decision.”
Rosemary Plummer (Islington UNISON Schools Convenor second from left) and Support Staff lobby Board of Governors at The Bridge School