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HomeEducationCouncils hands are tied over decision to academise 'inadequate' Wembley school

Councils hands are tied over decision to academise ‘inadequate’ Wembley school

A North London council has said it is unable to step in to stop the academisation of a community primary school, after it was rated ‘inadequate’ following a recent Ofsted inspection. The Department for Education (DfE) issued an order to convert it into an academy, much to the anger of many staff and parents, but Brent Council has revealed it would be illegal to ‘oppose or even delay’ the decision.

Located on Spencer Road in Wembley, Byron Court Primary School 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’. The rating triggers an automatic response from the DfE, with the school set to come under the control of an academy trust, Harris Federation, in an attempt to address the issues.

A petition signed by more than 1,300 people was submitted to Brent Council at a recent Cabinet meeting (April 8). They think that academisation ‘will be dangerous’ and are calling on the council to intervene to ensure Byron Court remains a community school.

A parent and one of the coordinators of Save Byron Court – a joint campaign group formed of parents and staff from the school – Matt Paul, called the Ofsted rating ‘extremely damaging’ but said it ‘doesn’t ring true’ with the experiences of many parents or staff.

Mr Paul said: “[It is] the last of what was an inclusive and happy learning environment and school community, the departure of many much-loved and dedicated staff [who] will leave or be forced out as a result, and the loss of Byron’s identity and another of Brent’s community schools forever.”

Campaigners feel there were mitigating circumstances that resulted in the disastrous Ofsted inspection, including frequent changes of head teacher, disruption from Covid, and forthcoming changes to the Ofsted approach. They are calling on Ofsted to reinspect the school under any new framework as the new leadership have been making positive changes, which Mr Paul says they ‘deserve to have recognised’.

The group are also requesting that the council, given its key role and manifesto promise to protect community schools, intervene by pushing the DfE and Ofsted to reinspect Byron Court, as well as providing support recruitment to help staff and monitoring the work done by the Rapid Improvement Group – which was set up by Brent Council to provide structured support.

Lead Member for Children, Young People and Schools, Cllr Gwen Grahl, said it was ‘deeply regrettable’ that the school had been rated as inadequate and acknowledged the ‘considerable distress and anxiety’ it has caused to the school community. The councillor assured parents that the council ‘are doing and will continue to do everything within our power’ to make significant improvements to the school, as well as support staff members and give clarity to parents.

Councils hands are tied over decision to academise 'inadequate' Wembley school Harrow Online
Cllr Gwen Grahl. Cllr Gwen Grahl said it would be illegal for the council to ‘oppose or even delay’ the decision. Image Credit: Brent Council. Permission to use with all LDRS partners

But Cllr Grahl emphasised that this ‘was not a local authority decision’ and the council is legally ‘forced to comply’ with it and must ‘take all reasonable steps to facilitate academisation’. Addressing the Cabinet, she said: “It is for that reason that cabinet, officers and the local authority as a whole cannot oppose or even delay this decision. We also have very little input into the timing of academisation or indeed when the school will next be inspected.”

She added: “As a Lead Member I fully understand how unjust this must feel to parents who feel they do not have a say in the future governance of the school. […] At the political level I feel it highlights a number of areas where education policy has become undemocratic and highly counteractive to delivering high quality education for pupils.

“It highlights first of all, chronic problems and a lack of trust with the current Ofsted system, which we know places undue pressures on staff and simplistically, at times cruelly, reduces the complexities of the running of a school to a single word judgement. […] Above all we want exactly what all of you here want: a safe, happy and fulfilling education for the children who attend the school, and we will keep working towards that.”

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