On Wednesday 10th March, campaigners relaunched the Hands Off Moulsecoomb Primary School campaign with an online meeting in response to the news that 3 new academy trusts have their sights set on taking over the school.
120 people joined the Zoom meeting and heard from Lloyd Russell-Moyle MP, Brighton & Hove City councillors, staff, parents, and union representatives. The unions representing staff (National Education Union, UNISON and GMB) have now announced that strike action will take place at the school on Wednesday 24th March, with further days planned for 28th and 29th April.
The school was rated “inadequate” by Ofsted in April 2019 which led to the Secretary of State for Education imposing an academy order, which forces the school to join a multi-academy trust.
Since then, campaigners have fought vigorously for the academy order to be revoked, arguing that the school has improved significantly since then, which they say means the school should no longer be eligible for intervention from the Department for Education.
The SATs results released in the same academic year as the inspection improved significantly in all areas and Ofsted monitoring visits (which do not change the grade of a school) have also observed improvements across the school. The visit in February 2020 noted that “the headteacher has had to devote his energies to dealing with matters related to the academy order” and that “this has, on occasions, diverted him away from the core business of improving the quality of education.”
Parents have protested the move to force the school to become an academy at the school gates when previous academy bosses have visited the school, as well as outside the workplace of one academy trustee. In a ballot of parents run by the council asking whether they wanted the school to become an academy, 96% voted against the move.
In November 2019, staff took one day of strike action when the New Horizons Academy Trust was in the process of becoming the sponsor for the school. Shortly afterwards, in mid-December, the trust publicly withdrew from the process leaving the school with no prospective sponsor.
Now 3 more trusts have been named as being considered for the school. They are The Pioneer Academy based in South London and Kent, Schoolsworks Academy Trust based in West Sussex, and The Chancery Education Trust also based in South London. The Department for Education is said to want a sponsor chosen by 25th March.
Controversy surrounding potential sponsor
Campaigners have identified what they claim to be a serious conflict of interest regarding one of the trusts being considered for the school. The Regional Director of Schools for The Pioneer Academy, Timothy Rome, was part of the Ofsted inspection team that rated the school as inadequate in 2019.
According to Rome’s LinkedIn account, at the time of the inspection he was Executive Headteacher of schools within the trust and campaigners say it is inconceivable that he was not involved in discussions about the trust potentially sponsoring the school.
In a letter to the trust, Lloyd Russell-Moyle MP for Kemptown called it “a gross conflict of interest” and said that he would “seek legal advice”.
Parents, staff, councillors, and MP united
At the online public meeting on Wednesday 10th March, Lloyd Russell-Moyle MP, Councillors Hannah Clare (Green Party), John Alcock (Labour) and Kate Knight (Independent), declared their support for the campaign to keep the school as a community school.
Staff member Jools Voce spoke passionately to thank those attending “from the heart” for their support. She described how difficult taking strike action would be for staff due to the inconvenience to parents and the lost education for children, stating that staff did not want “to take one more minute away from the education of our children”.
Parent campaigner, Natasha Ide, who said she had spoken to several parents beforehand, gave staff their “100% support for strike action”, stating it was “time to take the gloves off and fight again” and encouraging more parents to join the campaign.
Campaigners have setup a letter writing tool that is accessible on the campaign social media pages, that they are asking parents and concerned members of the community to use to write to the CEOs of the 3 academy trusts being considered for the school.
The letter argues that they “have the power to prevent strike action by withdrawing from the process” and urges them to “respect the wishes of parents, staff, and the local community and publicly declare that their trust is no longer interested in sponsoring our school.”
Quotes from trade unions:
Paul Shellard, NEU Branch Secretary said: “Staff only ever take strike action as a last resort, but we know that academisation will be detrimental to the learning conditions for children and the working conditions for staff.
“Gavin Williamson claims to support schools and communities, but he is ignoring the united community opposition to taking the school away from local democratic control.
“We know that the community will support us. The message is clear: the sponsors should withdraw and allow the school and staff to concentrate on improving outcomes for children.”
Mark Turner GMB Branch Secretary said: “It is unfortunate that the Secretary of State for Education still isn’t understanding or accepting that our members, parents and the community as a whole do not want this school to be taken over by any Academy Trust.
“We, the GMB, will support this campaign in every way possible to stop the privatisation of education taking place – strike action will send a clear message to any Academy Trust that they are not welcome in Moulsecoomb and we will not cooperate with any Trust parachuted in to take control of our school.
“Pupils’ education this year has already been disrupted enough through Covid and whilst staff want to concentrate their efforts and focus on improving the education on offer, the further distractions of potential Academy sponsors are preventing that.”
Matt Webb, UNISON Brighton & Hove Education Convenor said: “Over the last year or so UNISON members at Moulsecoomb Primary have stood shoulder to shoulder with colleagues, parents, the community and our sister trade unions in seeking to keep the much-loved school in the accountable hands of the community it serves.
“The campaign has since seen off calamitous and failing Multi-Academy Trusts through public pressure and industrial action to afford the school the time it has needed to work with the local authority to address issues raised by OFSTED. The resolve of that campaign has not faltered or declined.”