Lewisham’s chronically troubled secondary schools: parents fight back

Local mothers and fathers gain more of a voice in the fight to improve education in Lewisham

The performance of secondary schools in Lewisham is under the spotlight
The performance of secondary schools in Lewisham is under the spotlight

There have been a few developments since this blog’s first post on Lewisham’s chronically troubled secondary schools earlier this month.

Firstly, parents with children are due to start their secondary education in September found out their school allocation. Many did not get what they wanted (42.2 per cent to be precise). Some were distraught.

Then last weekend, a new network for parents of the borough had its first meeting. Speakers included Heidi Alexander, MP, and Nicky Dixon, a member of the Campaign for State Education for South-East London. Nicky is a parent of a pupil at Sedgehill School, a local secondary rated “inadequate” by Ofsted and subsequently forced to become an academy – yet still waiting for a sponsor.

Nicky reports on the meeting as below:

There was lots of interest in creating a Working Group and working together to support each other, the schools and create a much needed parent education voice within Lewisham.  

Parents have lost consultation rights by the Education & Adoption Act for schools rated Inadequate, Causing Concern or Coasting, and Lewisham does not consider parents as part of the Education equation (we are not involved in the Secondary Challenge, were not invited to share our views on Transition (transitioning between primary and secondary)).
This is the start of a new journey for Lewisham parents, and we need to spread the word to create a truly borough-wide parent network.

Nicky also encouraged people to sign the Fair Funding for All Schools Petition and  use its guidance to complete the National Funding Formula Consultation, which closes on March 22.

Meanwhile, in the House of Commons this week Heidi Alexander also mentioned Sedgehill and used education as her weapon of choice to attack the Government’s recent budget, calling its policy an “aspirational mirage”.  See the extended extracts below:

In recent weeks there have been protests in my constituency, as there have been across the country, against cuts to school budgets. Parents have taken to the streets, concerned about fewer teachers and support staff, reduced curriculums and fewer opportunities for their children. So what good news did last week’s Budget contain for those concerned mums and dads? The answer is, very little. Ministers ramped up their grammar school rhetoric and made a lot of noise about being on the side of aspiration, and they hoped no one would notice that they have no real solutions for the schools that are struggling most.

Later, she set out her stall even more clearly:

I strongly and fundamentally believe in our comprehensive system. We should teach children of different backgrounds and different faiths, with different abilities, in the same schools—we can stream in secondaries, yes, but we must ensure that young people get to mix with others who are not exactly the same as them. The truth is that the Government are not interested in that. They want to play politics instead of addressing real problems. It does not matter what they say about paying for transport to grammars or fiddling with entrance exams, their proposals will cream off the lucky few at the expense of the majority.

To rub salt into the wound, the Government are simply failing to address the problems in some of the country’s worst schools, and they will exacerbate them with their new funding formula. They are still pursuing an academy strategy that is slowly falling apart. Lewisham has the worst-performing secondary schools of any borough in London, and the academies in my constituency are struggling. They have not delivered the soaring GCSE results that were promised, and they have a mixed record on discipline. That is not the worst of it, though. At Sedgehill school, staff and pupils have been left in a permanent state of limbo. An academy order has been issued following the imposition of an interim executive board, but no academy sponsor seems interested in taking the school on. This has been dragging on for more than two years.

What is the Government’s answer for schools like Sedgehill? What is their answer to the parents who ask me whether their school is one of the many so-called orphaned or untouchable schools they read about in the papers, for which academy sponsors cannot be found? It is an absolute disgrace. If an academy sponsor cannot be identified, revoke the academy order and put in place a tailored package of support for the school. Focus on what is going on inside the classroom, not on the sign outside the school gate. Do not blame the local authorities, either. Councils have been emasculated by central Government in recent years and stripped of resources, leading to the loss of school improvement services. They have been stripped of the ability to open new schools of their choosing and stripped of any real power to sort things out when they go wrong.

I am fed up with listening to Ministers talk about grammar schools when they have no answer for schools like Sedgehill. I do not want teachers to be asking me why the parent teacher association is raising money for photocopier paper rather than for the luxuries it used to raise money for. I do not see how anything in the Budget, or anything that the Government are doing in education, will equip all children with the skills, knowledge and confidence that they need to succeed in the increasingly competitive, complex and fast-moving world we now live in.

You can read the whole debate on Hansard. This is easily the Lewisham East MP’s most outspoken and passionate contribution on education in the borough since she began her time in Parliament in 2010.

It is worth noting that not only was Heidi Alexander a senior member of Lewisham Council for several years, she was also the director of the Lewisham Local Education Partnership from 2007 to 2009. So she is not in the most objective of positions to judge whether to blame local councils. But hearing Lewisham’s local education issues discussed so prominently in the House of Commons is heartening.

It would also be reassuring to hear more detailed thoughts from our politicians on pragmatic solutions. Here’s a question Lewisham residents may wish to put to their local MPs – Heidi Alexander, Vicky Foxcroft and Jim Dowd: Can they collectively give their verdict on the Lewisham Education Commission’s Report  – and outline practical ways to help the next generation of students get a better education even if it’s within a system they oppose?

Again, beyond helping the network for local mums and dads, Heidi’s recent column on education in the South London Press gives little tangible beyond animosity to the Government and a token gesture of inviting local pupils to Parliament. Good for the Twitter feed – and of course brilliant for the students involved – but how much practical use to local parents?

Of course, a parents’ network is a positive, sensible start. But there is still a long way to go.

Author: lewishamlately

I'm Jolyon and I set up Lewisham Lately after fretting about the lack of news coverage for the borough. I have written for Lonely Planet, worked on the travel desk at the Daily Telegraph and am also an avid runner. Currently an SE13 dweller – mostly Hither Green – for around eight years.

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