Meet with the Head of Fortismere School and the Chair of Governors this morning. In answer to enquiries about where I stand, I had laid out my views – subject to this meeting. Basically I am against foundation schools in principle because of my concerns over the breaking of ranks with the Haringey community of schools, the possibility of bringing in selection, the difficulty that might be caused by the draining of other schools if Fortismere then expanded, the possibility of loss of statemented places and whether such a move might place Blanche Nevile (school for deaf children and co-sited) in jeopardy. Most importantly, I have asked for a ballot of all parents – as the school will fare better if the parents are on board and seen to be on board with whatever decision is made.
However, I acknowledge that Fortismere has been put in an impossible position by Haringey Council. The meeting confirms my view that, although the Governors have been considering foundation status for around a year, it is the intransigent position of Haringey Council in terms of funding the repair and renovation of the unusable buildings that has forced this issue.
It became clear that it has been indicated to the school that the Council expects to fund any building through the sale of Fortismere’s land assets. There will be nothing forthcoming from the Council. Nothing forthcoming from the Government. And it is possible that the Council will decide to remove the £2 million extra squeezed out of them in the wake of the lack of funding from the Building Schools for the Future funding allocation.
Fortismere, not surprisingly, does not trust Haringey Council. Only a short while ago, the Council sold off one of the school’s land assets, Strathlene House, on the basis of a promise to the school that they would receive the proceeds. Pigs might fly. And that is the problem. Having been shafted, the Governors are making the only move they can to stop any sale of land for the moment. The move to consider foundation status freezes all assets. Their argument is that at least if the Governors have control in future, the school will receive the benefits of any sales.
I raised the key concerns and received the following responses:
– that Fortismere will continue to be comprehensive and play a full part in the community of schools in Haringey (indeed the new Head has a track record of already doing so in his previous authority)
– that this was not a means of introducing selection as they still have to operate within the national criteria
– that they feel the administration of waiting lists would be fairer and more local with foundation status than with the current situation, where they are administered by Haringey Council
– that this was not the start of the route to becoming a Trust School
– categorical assurances that the Governors have never even discussed becoming a Trust School
– that statemented children will still have the right to name and go to the school to which they wish to be sent
I asked them about a ballot of parents – and the answer was ‘we are considering a ballot / survey of parents’.
So! I remain of the view that the Labour Government’s policies on choice in schools will usher in the break up of the community of schools in locally administered areas. However, it is quite clear that Fortismere has had enough of Haringey’s cavalier attitude towards them in terms of treating them as if they are not part of the community of schools anyhow. Fortismere has not even had a place on the boroughs School Forum to date. I have no doubt that the Head and the Governors are moving to try and protect the school and its future in what they genuinely believe is the best interests of the school. That is why it remains absolutely crucial that the parents are able to express their view through a fair ballot.
From what was said, it was clear that the Governors believe that the vast majority of parents want the school to go down this road. If that belief is evidenced through a ballot then their case is genuinely made. Whatever my views in terms of education – I do understand the local problems that Fortismere is facing and so long as there is a democratic process will support the decision of the parents and school.