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Closure of Downhills Primary School, Tottenham

Volume 542: debated on Thursday 22 March 2012

The Petition of residents of Tottenham,

Declares that the Petitioners believe that there has been inadequate consultation about the Secretary of State for Education’s plans to close Downhills Primary School and re-open it as an academy; that the Petitioners value the links with the community that the school has maintained over the last 100 years; that the Petitioners believe that the Secretary of State’s plans are undemocratic and undermine the recent progress that has been made towards improving standards at the school and that the Petitioners oppose any attempts to change the status of the school without the consent of the community.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Secretary of State for Education not to exercise his powers to close Downhills Primary School and re-open it as an academy.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Mr David Lammy, Official Report, 23 January 2012; Vol. 539, c. 138.][P000998]

Observations from the Secretary of State for Education:

In June 2011, the Secretary of State set out an objective of turning around underperforming primary schools by finding new academy sponsors for them. The 2011 key stage 2 tests show that Haringey is the worst performing borough in inner London, with the highest number of primary schools below the floor standard.

Downhills primary school’s key stage 2 results have been below the floor standard from 2005-09. The school boycotted KS2 tests in 2010. In 2011 it remains below the floor on progression measures but is just above on attainment measures (61%). The school was judged by Ofsted as requiring significant improvement in January 2011 and was issued with a Notice to Improve. Upon re-inspection in January 2012, inspectors judged that standards at the school had deteriorated over the last 12 months and placed it into special measures. This is a serious judgment and not one given lightly by Ofsted. Ofsted found that the school was failing to give its pupils an acceptable standard of education and that those responsible for leading, managing and governing the school did not have the capacity to secure the necessary improvement.

Although the decision on whether a school should become an academy is voluntary for the vast majority of schools, we think it is right that action is taken at schools which are not providing an acceptable standard of education to their pupils. The Education Act 2011, which was granted Royal Assent on 15 November last year, gave the Secretary of State additional powers to intervene in poorly performing schools to help ensure academic standards are raised.

The Secretary of State informed the school in December that he was considering replacing the governors with interim executive members to give the school the leadership and expertise it needs to improve. The school was then given a period of time to respond to this proposed action. The school has been given a further opportunity to meet officials in the Department and make representations concerning the proposed action of the Secretary of State after the Ofsted inspection which found that the school required special measures. We considered the school’s representations carefully and have also considered Ofsted’s findings following their most recent inspection.

Based on all the relevant information before us we were not confident that the governing body would be able to make the improvements necessary to turn the school around. The Secretary of State decided, therefore, to issue an Academy Order requiring Haringey local authority to cease to maintain the school if a funding agreement for an academy is signed and to appoint an interim executive board. This was done on 15 March 2012. The interim executive board is responsible for securing improvements in the school and the Secretary of State has additionally asked it to consult on whether the school should convert into an academy sponsored by the Harris Federation.

The IEB will report the outcome of the consultation to the Secretary of State and he will consider this, and other relevant factors such as Ofsted’s findings, the performance at the school and its financial health before taking a decision on whether to enter into an agreement to allow the school to become an academy.

I understand the community value the links they have had with the Downhills school over the years and that they may be worried that they will disappear if the school were to become an academy. Academies have parents and other talented local people on their governing bodies, and are required to work at the heart of their communities, collaborating and sharing facilities and expertise with other schools and the wider community.

Our motivation is simply to raise and maintain academic standards for children. We want to find lasting solutions to underperformance so that children in Haringey can have the kind of opportunities enjoyed in neighbouring areas.