So – Fortismere – our local educational star in the Haringey firmament – has decided to move out of our close-knit school community and change to foundation status. That will now go out to statutory consultation for a very, very short four weeks – so if you want to have your say have it quickly. My understanding of the ‘informal’ consultation results were that there were 70% against this move albeit from a rather small response rate of 6%. I stand to be corrected on those figures as they are from reportage and memory.
The community is upset and divided on this issue. My personal position – as I am asked continually – is that the school should simply stay a good local community school. My role, however, is to try and make sure that the parents and community have a fair say in the future of this excellent school.
This proposal and decision has set parent against parent and has been extremely distressing for many of those involved. Parents of statemented children have come to me worried that the school will reduce their number. Parents in favour of the proposals have contacted me to say that they have been intimidated by those against the proposals – to the point of feeling unable to even voice their views in public.
I receive so many different stories about promises unmet on mode and extent of consultation, on one group thinking x and another wanting y. That is why I very early on wrote to the Head and Governors to hold an all-parent ballot. This was refused. But how else can we really know what parents want as a body? And the teachers? And the pupils? And the local community? We are all inter-linked.
The LEA are not blameless in all of this either. Nor the Government. One of the factors that prompted the school to take this path – or at least seems to have confirmed it in the direction it is bent on taking – is the Labour Government and the Labour LEA between them refusing to grant enough capital funding to deal with a degrading sixth form building and Portacabins that have been there for decades.
I went with the Head and school governors to Ministers before all this started because the Building Schools for the Future fund provided by the Government for new buildings and apportioned to Haringey schools by Haringey Labour LEA had put Fortismere at the very bottom – with clearly no potential to solve their building problems for the next ten years. The Government wouldn’t consider giving any more money – saying it was up to the LEA to distribute that fund. The LEA said they couldn’t distribute it any other way as the Government controlled the funding allocation by criteria which were weighted less to do with the need for new building and much more to do with deprivation factors. Inevitably the poorer areas received more funding – even if buildings in less deprived areas were more in need of work. That means that a high-achieving school like Fortismere with a relatively comfortable catchment wasn’t even in the game despite having crumbling building fabric.
So – I feel that the combination of LEA and Government has given the school the ideal excuse to go to parents and explain that if they didn’t take this path etc etc they would not be able to have the desperately needed new buildings. Only control over their own assets – which comes with this change – would supply the funding they need. Of course – a whole raft of other concerns are involved from possible selection to reducing the numbers of statemented children. Denials of this from the school. Counter denials from the campaigners who want to keep the school comprehensive.
I don’t know if the moves to call for a judicial review on the grounds of flawed consultation will come to anything – there may well be some mechanism and maybe some mileage. I still believe that there should be a ballot – not just to canvas true opinion but also so that once the decision is finally made it could have been fair and seen to be fair and therefore all parties could move forward together and put this miserable experience where no one trusts anyone behind them.
I offered to broker a meeting between Fortismere and the LEA but the LEA could not find a suitable time or date for such a meeting. A great shame – but seemingly the process rolls on, and now – in the last phase – there is just this statutory consultation and that will finish mid July.