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HomeEducationParents stage protest outside Wembley primary school

Parents stage protest outside Wembley primary school

A protest has been held outside a Wembley primary school after an order was issued from the Department for Education (DfE) to convert it into an academy.

It comes in response to a recent Ofsted inspection, where the school was rated as ‘Inadequate’, but parents are fighting to keep it in the hands of the local council, fearing their children will be worse off if the school is brought under the umbrella of an academy trust – The Harris Federation has been mooted to take it into its portfolio of more than 50 schools.

Located on Spencer Road in Wembley, Byron Court provides education to 872 pupils, ranging from ages four to 11. It was given an ‘outstanding’ rating when it was previously inspected in 2012, but a scathing report following inspections on November 28 and 29 last year highlighted the school’s ‘marked deterioration’.

More than 1,000 people have already signed a petition to ‘stop the forced academisation’ of the school, with parents wanting a greater say in the decision making process. A large group of passionate parents, politicians, and pupils gathered outside the school on Thursday (March 21) to fight the decision.

Usman Iqbal, 44, whose three children attend Byron Court, has confidence in the staff and believes they deserve some time to make the necessary improvements. He wants the school to remain part of the community as he feels academies are ‘run like a business’.

Speaking to the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS), Usman said: “The parents want to be part of the decision making, they want to be part of the actual community, they want to feel and breathe the school. The children are very happy, they run into school every day. My three kids come here, they are very happy. There’s no reason for them to feel otherwise.”

Parents stage protest outside Wembley primary school Harrow Online
Usman Iqbal, 44. Usman Iqbal, 44, has three children who attend Byron Court. Image Credit: Grant Williams. Permission to use with all LDRS partners

He added: “The school has been very supportive in their education. Yes, they’ve had a bad Ofsted report but the opportunity has not been given to them to fundamentally improve those things.”

The Ofsted report noted ‘significant changes’ at the school since the last inspection, leaving it with ‘insufficient capacity’ to run effectively and too much responsibility being held by too few people. Pupils’ behaviour was said to have ‘significantly declined’ over time. In lessons, students were said to disrupt their own learning and that of others, whilst break-times were described as ‘chaotic’ – even when a member of staff was on duty.

The rating triggers an automatic response from the DfE, with the school coming under the control of an academy trust in an attempt to address the issues. Another parent, Matt Paul, 30, said parents were ‘shocked’ when they first read the report.

He told the LDRS: “We just couldn’t believe what we were reading and the things that were in the report. We did a parent survey shortly after the report came out and there was a majority of people who didn’t feel it was reflective but there were plenty of people who said they have had problems with the school.”

Matt is one of the main organisers of the campaign hoping to stop the academisation process and wants parents to have a greater say in the school’s future. He thinks the decision to take the school out of control of the community is neither ‘fair or right’.

Matt said: “We don’t have any say at the moment about what has happened and we don’t feel that is fair or right. We are parents, staff, the community, the council. We are all key stakeholders in what should happen with this school and yet the government don’t seem to want to know.”

Parents stage protest outside Wembley primary school Harrow Online
Matt Paul, 30. Matt Paul, 30, helped to organise the protest. Image Credit: Grant Williams. Permission to use with all LDRS partners

Brent Council has also publicly called for the school to remain in the hands of the local authority as they feel that would be the best thing for the ‘wellbeing and educational attainment’ of pupils at the school. The protest was also supported by a number of councillors and the local MP.

Between passionate chants of ‘hands off our school’ and ‘community, unity’, Cllr Daniel Kennelly gave a rallying speech in support of the protest. He feels it is important that the school ‘remains for children and education, and not for profit’.

Speaking to the LDRS after his speech, Cllr Kennelly said: “I think it’s wrong that a community school that has been here since 1932 is being given over to Harris Trust so that they can demolish the community links that we have. This is a school for the community. Yes, it needs improvement, but it does not need academisation.”

Cllr Kennelly fears that academisation could have a huge impact on the school’s facilities, extra-curricular activities, and staff morale. He suggested the change could have huge consequences, including the potential selling off of the sports field. There’s been no suggestion by The Harris Federation this is part of its plans for the school but locals fear things outside of academic studies could be targeted for cost savings.

Cllr Kennelly added: “What other areas will they be cutting? Will they cut after school clubs and groups that aren’t focused around education but do contribute massively to our children’s education.[…] What we need to remember here is the wellbeing of staff and children comes first.”

Parents stage protest outside Wembley primary school Harrow Online
Cllr Daniel Kennelly. Cllr Daniel Kennelly fears academisation may mean a loss of facilities, activities, and staff morale. Image Credit: Grant Williams. Permission to use with all LDRS partners

MP for Brent North, Barry Gardiner, also attended the protest. He gave a speech and posed with placards in support of parents. He said he is ‘disappointed’ with the decision to academise the school after previously warning that it was the ‘ultimate goal’.

Mr Gardiner told the LDRS: “The parents here are really concerned, not simply because of the Ofsted report and the fact that the school is inadequate – and obviously every parent’s primary concern is for their children and their children’s education – but it’s also the way in which, I think, they feel the school has been failed over a period of time.”

He added: “Now they are told that the only alternative here is for this to become part of an academy trust and they are deeply concerned about that. […] It loses that sense of community that this school in particular has always had. It is, or it was, one of those little gems in the local community.”

Harris Federation, a Multi-Academy Trust that operates 54 schools, has been chosen to manage Byron Court Primary moving forwards. This decision hasn’t gone down well with parents,

Usman said: “Our colleagues who are part of this campaign have done a lot of research on the Harris Federation and it does not sit well with us here as parents, that’s one thing we must put out there. Further than that, we hope someone is listening and think that we can remain as a community school, that Brent Council can step up rather than passing the buck and provide the school with the support they need.”

Parents stage protest outside Wembley primary school Harrow Online
Barry Gardiner MP. Barry Gardiner MP attended the protest to show his support for parents. Image Credit: Grant Williams. Permission to use with all LDRS partners

Matt added: “We want our kids to be enjoying to go to school, we want them to grow up as good citizens as well. We want them to do the extra curricular activities and all of that stuff that’s so important to young minds and their development.”

Brent Council’s Cabinet Member for Children, Young People and Schools, Cllr Gwen Grahl, acknowledged that the current situation at the school is ‘understandably causing concern’ among parents, pupils and teaching staff, and claimed the local authority has been working closely with the leadership team to address the issues in the Ofsted report.

Cllr Grahl said: “A new Chair and Vice Chair of Governors are now in place and we are working closely with them to ensure that the necessary improvements are made as quickly as possible at the school. We feel that the oversight offered by the local authority is invaluable, for teaching staff, pupils and the wider community and wherever and whenever possible we always encourage schools to remain part of the Brent family of council maintained schools.”

She added: “Regrettably, the legal position is that schools with an ‘inadequate’ rating must become academies following the issue of an academy order. This decision now rests with the Secretary of State for Education.”

A spokesperson for the DfE said: “We are focused on continuing to improve standards in schools, and the department sees high quality academy trusts as the key vehicle to improve educational standards by facilitating better collaboration, directing resources to where they are needed most, and enabling our best leaders to support a greater number of schools.”

They added: “As an independent body, Ofsted plays a vital role by providing independent judgement on school inspections and has a legal duty to issue an Academy Order and identify a suitable sponsor in these circumstances.”

Harris Federation were approached for comment but did not respond ahead of publication.

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