Following a long running campaign by parents and staff to oppose the conversion of Peacehaven Community School (PCS) to an academy, which included 10 days of industrial action by members of the National Education Union (NEU), PCS is now set to join the Swale Academies Trust on 1st September 2019.
Staff and parents had been under the impression that there was no planned conversion date, as they had only been informed that it would be happening sometime in the future. However, in the second week of August, midway through the summer holidays, staff received a letter stating that the conversion date would be 1st September and parents were not informed of the change.
This prompted parent campaigners to take the Interim Executive Board (IEB), which was imposed by East Sussex County Council in 2017 to govern the school, to the high courts to ask for a delay in proceedings to allow for a Judicial Review.
Campaigners had argued that due to the two and a half years delay to conversion since the initial consultation, significant changes had taken place which meant that a fresh consultation was justified in the name of fairness and democracy. However, the Royal Courts of Justice ruled that the legal argument of significant change was not strong enough and interim relief to allow for a Judicial Review was declined.
Parent campaigner, Ash Webster said of the decision:
“I am hugely disappointed and hold a very heavy heart to hear the verdict delivered by the judge in our request for interim relief. East Sussex County Council and the IEB have simply ignored our basic and reasonable request for transparency and fairness with a new consultation.
“We put up a good fight and the community spirit to push this campaign forward has been amazing. The local community will continue to remain united to protect our primary schools in the face of any threat from being pushed into academisation.”
Following the ruling, East Sussex County Council attempted to reclaim their legal costs from the other side, despite the claim being brought by a parent receiving legal aid. However, this was declined by the judge who deemed that it would be particularly harsh and that the claim was genuine and not vexatious. Swale also attempted to reclaim their costs, but this was withdrawn.
Phil Clarke, NEU East Sussex Branch Secretary said:
“Whilst East Sussex County Council may have won the legal argument, which is no surprise in a legislative framework designed to privatise schools, they have clearly lost the moral argument which is why they ended up in court. It is an absolute disgrace that they punitively and maliciously attempted to reclaim costs from a parent receiving legal aid, simply for asking for a say in the future of their community school.
“We need to be very clear that the Council are putting the needs of a private academy company above the needs of the students and community. The County Councillors for Peacehaven and Telscombe, Nigel Enever and Adam Smith, should be ashamed of themselves for completely failing to stand up for their community.”
Local MP, Lloyd Russell-Moyle, who has been supporting the parent and staff campaigners, said of the news:
“The utter disregard for the feelings of the community mean that East Sussex County Council is no longer fit for purpose. The council officers should hang their heads in shame for the destruction of education in our county.
“When Labour form the next Government, we will reverse this and make sure the architects of these policies at County Hall are held to account and left unemployable. In the meantime, our children’s education is at risk because of dodgy deals at County Hall. The fight is not yet over, and we will explore all other ways to stop this highway robbery by Swale”