Parents join teachers to rally against Highbury Grove School being turned into academy

Highbury Grove School. Picture: Ken Mears

Highbury Grove School. Picture: Ken Mears - Credit: Archant

Parents have joined Highbury Grove teachers to rally against the school being turned into an academy.

Tom Sherrington left the school on January 20. Picture: Polly Hancock

Tom Sherrington left the school on January 20. Picture: Polly Hancock - Credit: Archant

Representatives of the school and Islington Council were quizzed by parents on Monday evening in the wake of a damning Ofsted report that sent the former “outstanding” school tumbling into special measures, meaning it is set to be taken away from the local authority.

The 1,200-pupil secondary school in Highbury New Park was left without a permanent skipper following headteacher Tom Sherrington’s shock departure on January 20 – less than a fortnight before the publication of the report.

The paper, also published on Monday, gave the school an “inadequate” rating: the lowest on the scale of four.

Converting the school into an academy could take two terms, so campaigners Save Highbury Grove have wasted little time in getting organised.

Barbecue campaign: Cllr Caroline Russell. Picture: Polly Hancock

Barbecue campaign: Cllr Caroline Russell. Picture: Polly Hancock - Credit: Archant

A spokesman for the group said: “Staff are not happy with the way this has been handled. Having been steered into inadequate territory, we now face the prospect of being turned into an academy.

“We plan to rally the community to oppose these plans. Highbury Grove is a community school, and should remain open to all and accountable to the community.

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“The school must improve, but academisation will make it much worse. We accept the diagnosis, but not the medicine.”

Mark Taylor, head of children’s services at Islington Council, said there had been no offer from an academy trust to take the reins at this stage.

Highbury East Cllr Caroline Russell said: “I do not accept academisation is a solution. As a former chair of governors I know schools can recover from these situations. We need to understand how Highbury Grove reached this crisis, not as a blame game, but to agree constructive ways to get it back on track while staying a true community school.”

Ofsted had awarded Highbury Grove top marks in 2010 under Mr Sherrington’s predecessor Truda White – but inspectors who visited at the end of the autumn term painted a different picture.

In the paper, lead investigator Helen Matthews tells of “poor academic progress hindering many pupils from moving on to the next stage of education and training” and “leaders having an over-generous view of the quality of education they are providing”.

She writes: “Progress for all pupils in 2015 and 2016 was significantly below the progress made by pupils nationally. School leaders do not have an accurate understanding of the quality of education they are providing.

“Too many pupils are persistently absent from school and this has a detrimental impact on the progress they are making.”

The report also rounded on governors for not challenging Mr Sherrington’s decisions.

“They have often been too accepting of information and evidence presented to them, particularly in relation to teachers’ salary and pay progression,” it said.

In response to the paper, a parent who wishes to remain anonymous said: “I am absolutely mortified and feel utterly cheated that the school has let many of us down.

“With this being the first year of my son’s GCSE year I feel helpless and very concerned to how this will impact on my son’s achievements at the school considering this poor outcome.”

Aimee Lyall takes up the role of acting head having been at the helm of the sixth form, which was the only thing judged “good” in the inspection.

Speaking at the meeting, she said: “The Ofsted report is in the past and we now need to look to the future. Our young children will not be sacrificed.”

Ken Muller, joint secretary of the Islington NUT, met governors to discuss the Ofsted report on Monday.

If the school wishes to lodge a complaint against the Ofsted outcome, it must do so within 10 working days of the report being published – by February 20, after half term.

But there was no mention of appealing the decision at Monday night’s parents’ forum, with the school stressing the need to look to the future. Mr Muller told the Gazette: “The impression we got from the governors is that they are not going to complain about the decision, but we think that they should.” He added: “We will be joining with parents to campaign against turning the school into an academy.”

It was also revealed the council had set up a “strategic partnership board” in September that included teaching and leadership support from Central Foundation School for Boys.

A year previously the council provided additional “back office” support to free up the headteacher to focus on key issues facing the school and deliver the improvements the school had agreed to.

Cllr Joe Caluori, Islington’s executive member for children, young people and families, said: “We want every child in Islington to get the best possible education.

“We will continue to work closely with Highbury Grove School and provide the necessary support towards achieving this goal so that pupils, parents and staff can be confident in its future.”

The order for the school to be converted into an academy order would be issued by Martin Post, regional schools commissioner for North West London, on behalf of education secretary Justine Greening.

View the full Ofsted report at

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