Staff at Peacehaven Heights Primary to Strike Over Academy Plans

We have received this statement regarding Peacehaven Heights School which explains the future of the school:-

Two thirds of staff are likely to leave the school if academy plans go ahead.

“Last night (Tuesday 20th April), more than 30 parents, staff and local politicians attended a meeting on Zoom to discuss the ongoing academy row at Peacehaven Heights Primary School. At the meeting, Phil Clarke, Branch Secretary of East Sussex National Education Union (NEU) announced that members of the NEU at the school will be taking strike action on Wednesday 5th May over the issue.

In 2019, the governing bodies at Peacehaven Heights Primary School and Telscombe Cliffs Primary School were instructed by East Sussex County Council to explore academy options for the schools. Following strikes by staff at both schools supported by a vociferous community campaign and having concluded from their own research that academy conversion would not be beneficial, the governing bodies decided against the move.

Then, in the autumn on 2019, East Sussex County Council imposed Interim Executive Boards (IEB) to take over the governance of the schools. This was approved by the Department for Education with an expectation that the IEBs “actively consider a sponsored academy solution” for the schools. The IEBs have since brought in interim leaders from the STEP Academy Trust, having failed to recruit permanent Headteachers for both schools.

Now staff at Peacehaven Heights Primary School are set to take strike action whilst academy plans are still on the cards. At the public meeting staff members read out a moving statement (available in full at the end of this press release) to parents to let them know how they collectively feel about the situation, calling on the council to “advertise for a permanent headteacher and put in a shadow governing body, which is what was said in a letter to staff and parents in September 2019.”

They explained how the politics surrounding the school has been “unsettling and destructive and is not beneficial for [the pupils] academic development”. Concerningly, they reported that “in a staff survey 69% (2 out of every 3 members of staff) said they would be likely or very likely to leave if our school was to convert into an academy”.

Parent campaigners believe the instability of leadership at the school is a manufactured move to justify academisation. They have been calling on East Sussex County Council to re-instate a local governing body, comprised of parents, staff and local people to decide the future of the school.

So far, local Conservative County Councillors Andy Smith and Nigel Enever have responded to campaigners to say that the local authority and elected councillors have no powers to intervene. However, campaigners refute this as the IEBs were imposed by the council and are run by county council employees and consultants paid by the council.

Parent campaigner Vicky Hawkins said:

“I am incredibly concerned about the prolonged lack of leadership, constant disruptions and changes in the running of the school due to this revolving door of interim headteachers we’ve had over the past 2 ½ years.

“We need an elected governing body back in place and a headteacher secured very soon in order to restore the nurturing and stable environment our children desperately need.

“The amazing teachers and staff need our support now otherwise I fear most of them will feel forced to leave, and this would be utterly devastating for Peacehaven Heights.”

Parent campaigner Kelly Wilson said:

“As a parent of a child at Peacehaven Heights, I am extremely concerned with the lack of stable leadership and lack of transparency with the closure of the pool and suspension of Beach School.

We need to support the hard-working staff and bring the unique community feel back to the school which can only be achieved with a stable head and local governors who have the best interests of the children at heart.”

Parent campaigner Isobel Sharkley said:

“As a parent and an ex-teacher, I was upset to learn that Beach School had been suspended when the schools opened again in March, and even more concerned now that I learn it may not come back at all. It is well established that many children need this kind of nurturing education as much as formal literacy after the disruption of the past year.”

Local politicians Lloyd Russell-Moyle MP and District Councillor Chris Collier, who is standing to become County Councillor for Peacehaven at the local elections in May were in attendance. Both offered their ongoing support to staff and campaigners for the school remaining as community schools.

Campaigners have setup a letter writing tool that enables parents and community members to easily write to key County Councillors to ask them to do everything within their power to ensure that the local authority re-instates local governing bodies without delay:

Open Letter from the staff at Peacehaven Heights Primary:

As a united group of staff, we wanted to write a letter to you all to explain how we feel.

What we, as members of staff, really want is to be able to wholly focus on the children in our care, and not the politics that continue to surround our school. We have a right to teach our children and the children have a right to learn in a stable and supportive learning environment, not one that constantly shifts from one leadership team to another. This is both unsettling and destructive and is not beneficial for their academic development nor their (or our) mental health and wellbeing.

We, the dedicated staff, who love the school we work in, have worked during a global pandemic, due to Covid19, through three lockdowns, undergoing huge personal and work pressures in the last 12 months.

Many of our members have worked in academies and private schools before and in a staff survey 69% (2 out of every 3 members of staff) said they would be likely or very likely to leave if our school was to convert into an academy. Having put so much time, energy and passion into our school, this potentially high staff turnover is the last thing we want to happen, and the last thing that our children need.

In the last eighteen months, the unelected governing body, the IEB, have dramatically changed our school landscape, much more so, since September 2020, when Step Academy have been directly involved.

The secrecy and behaviour of the IEB, where decisions are being made about the school directly goes against the 7 Nolan Principles of Public life: selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership. The IEB themselves told us of these principles and how important they are in the success of a school. A huge amount of information is confidential in the IEB minutes. We, as a school, deserve openness and transparency. 

Only a year ago, Peacehaven Heights Primary was a unique school with an award-winning Beach School and its very own swimming pool. We, as staff, know that many of you parents chose our school because of that very uniqueness.

Unfortunately, since the arrival of the IEB we have already lost our pool and Beach School has been suspended for the foreseeable future. As we all know, after promising complete transparency the IEB decided to fill the swimming pool with concrete without any consultation with the school community.

As for Beach School, we were told that the suspension was due to the need for introducing a stringent catch-up program, however no assurance was given as to it being back after the Summer holidays. This is particularly worrying as the majority of schools around the country have prioritized nurturing outdoor activities to support children’s mental health, which has been severely affected by the prolonged periods of lockdowns.

Because of what happened with the pool, we are worried that a decision about Beach School will be made without any consultation with the members of our school community. If that happens, we will lose both a part of the rich curriculum that children love and a part of the school that has made us proudly stand out amongst the other schools in our area.

Peacehaven Heights Primary school is currently part of the local authority, ESCC.  The staff collectively feel that the LA should advertise for a permanent headteacher and put in a shadow governing body, which is what was said in a letter to staff and parents in September 2019.”