Cllr Richard Watts
Published: 4 May, 2012
by ANDREW JOHNSON
GOVERNORS and teachers are said to be at loggerheads over the latest bid by an Islington school to free itself of local authority control.
The Bridge School – for pupils with special needs – is consulting over plans to go it alone and will make a decision at the end of next month.
It is following in the footsteps of three Islington primary schools which last year controversially decided to cut ties with the borough and receive funds directly from Whitehall.
But it is understood that many of the governors are uneasy about the plans. Opponents argue that because The Bridge, in Hungerford Road, Holloway, is a special school, with a ratio of almost one teacher to one pupil, there is little to be gained from academy status.
They have now called a public meeting, which will take place at Hilldrop Community Centre on Wednesday, where Islington North Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn will speak.
One person with close links to the school, who asked not to be named, said it seemed the only reason for the bid was to enhance the “status” of those involved.
Alasdair Smith, president of the National Union of Teachers in Islington, added that there would be no “tangible gain” from going it alone. He also said that children from outside the borough could go to the school if it became an academy because they would pay more. “I’ve spoken with a number of teachers and governors,” he said. “There are a lot of concerns about it, and what happens to pensions, finance and relationships with other schools.
“The governing body has refused an open public debate. They are trying to say it is an open process but I think the head is committed to it. She has said there will only be subtle changes, but she hasn’t defined what they will be.”
A governor who opposes the academy move said the school board was split on the issue. “This is a leap in the dark,” he said. “We don’t really know why it’s being proposed as it won’t make that much difference. People think there’s a lot of status to it but the school is rated ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted. If it isn’t broke, why fix it?”
Islington’s Labour education chief Councillor Richard Watts is also against the proposals, but believes the consultation is being carried out in a fairer way than campaigns by other schools.
“Whatever happens, we have to ensure that we continue to have a good relationship with the school,” he said. “These kids have high levels of need and it’s important they don’t fall through the gaps between different organisations running the school. I’m not persuaded that if The Bridge becomes an academy that won’t happen.”
Supporters of academies argue that they provide greater financial freedom, with heads able to tailor budgets to the particular needs of children.
The Bridge headteacher Penny Barratt said, in response to the criticisms: “We have a full consultation running where governors are seeking the views of all stakeholders as this will inform their decision far more than a ‘yes’ or ‘no’.
“If The Bridge were to become an academy, the governing body are not in any way proposing to alter our admission arrangements and will remain an Islington school serving our community, working closely with Islington local authority on admitting children with special educational needs.”
The public meeting is at Hilldrop Community Centre, in Hilldrop Road, 7-8pm on Wednesday.