Deptford says no to Tidemill becoming an academy

Leila’s experience of the consultation process since 13th July – 2nd Sept

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On Monday 19th July parents received a letter from Mark Elms the Head Teacher at Tidemill Primary School stating that they had been invited by the Secretary of State to convert to Academy Status. Parents were still reeling from the shock of finding the national press hounding the school gates on the morning of the 13th. They were interested in his huge pay packet, more than the prime minister said one paper. Rumours in the playground were rife and no one knew what was going on or why a few parents had supported his pay? A wall of secrecy was presented from the school. Parents wanted answers, Where did the money come from? Whose decision was it to award him city challenge money; what were the names of the schools he worked for? Encouraged by parents I started to ask questions. A governor even called me at home saying I would find out the next day. A press release was produced but I still do not have a concrete answer. I have now asked the school which exception order they have placed on my request to see the minutes and to carry out an internal review.

However, this is insignificant compared to what that lay ahead : Tidemill Academy. On the 7th July I remember ticking a box on a double-sided feedback questionnaire, printed in a type size I could hardly read. There are 50 languages spoken in the school but there was no attempt to offer a translation. The questionnaire asked if I wanted to receive information on Academies.  I vaguely remember chatting with a few teachers at the time asking them what they felt about Academies only to be told they could not say anything.

As national interest on his pay spread across the country I scoured the Internet.  It then dawned on me, his connection with the National College was to do with pushing through academies. I realized at that moment that a very serious agenda was being supported at all levels. The government had rushed through a law quicker than the terrorist law. They said consultation would slow down the process. It feels like an ill-conceived social experiment with no considered polices in case of failure. I thought what is happening to our future? The governors I spoke with couldn’t give me any detail; most told me we will have more money. “”Is this a bribe?” I thought. I have been an educator for 25 years and believe in free equal education for all and one that is definitely not driven by profit, I welcome change but with a social conscience. I had to act fast! I wrote my first email on the 15th July seeking assurances from the school that any move to consider Academy status would be subject to the broadest possible consultation with parents before any decision was made. I had no reply (apparently Mark had sent has reply to his business manager by mistake)
Eventually I received details on academies (selective information excluding the selection procedure). I could have downloaded all this from the government’s website myself. I have found the whole experience unprofessional. On the 20th I sent a letter to all the governors suggesting that the consultation period over the summer holiday with a one-hour meeting (9-10) at the beginning of term autumn was not adequate and to consider alternative times. I pleaded with them to make a decision with their eyes wide open. I still have had no response.

Two days from the last day of term, with help from the Anti Academy Alliance and a local campaigner. I leafleted outside the school gates informing the parents about what an Academy actually entails. Most parents didnt take this in as term was over but some parents realized straight away the social implications. I had more support than I anticipated. That weekend I built a website with my partner, adding an online petition to consult the community and links to contact our MP and councillor. I canvassed all the local shop keepers, local estates and sent the information to as many people I could think of, wrote to the MP and council, and contacted the press. I found it important to talk to as many people as possible, (it’s the only way to understand what is going on). I found out that they hadn’t informed the new January start parents. So far we have 600 signatures and it is growing. There will be an open meeting on the 6th September and the head has agreed to discuss the issue in an open debate with Joan Ruddock MP as chair. I have recently been informed by Frankie Sulke the Director of Education for Lewisham that Mark Elms has conceded to consult every parent and the community and not to fast track the decision. However, I have not been informed officially by the school and Term starts this Monday. Lots can change in two weeks!

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