CamdenNewJournal

The independent London newspaper

Protests at the gates over Swiss Cottage School’s academy switch plan

Unions say staff and parents do not support plan to break free from council control

23 February, 2017 — By Tom Foot

The protest in Avenue Road yesterday (Wednesday)

STAFF protested at the gates of a school looking to be the first to break free from council control to become an academy, as governors met for crunch talks.

Swiss Cottage School, for children with special education needs, is considering the switch from Camden’s much-lauded “family” of council-run schools to become independently managed and pursue an expansion plan.

But a survey revealed a huge majority of parents, teachers and support staff opposing the move. At the protest outside the Avenue Road school last night (Wednesday), Camden Unison’s Hugo Pierre said: “Swiss Cottage governors can be in no doubt that parents, school support staff and teachers reject the conversion of Swiss Cottage School into an academy. We call on the governors to drop this divisive plan. Concentrate instead on protecting the outstanding education and care offered to students instead of trying to problem-solve all the issues they would face if the school converted to an academy.”

The governing body was due to discuss the survey which found just seven of 230 parents supported “converting to an academy”. Just four out of 27 teachers were in favour, while nine support staff from 138 were in favour. Four out of 61 headteachers, in all Camden schools, supported the change. Reasons given were “do not agree politically with the academy agenda”; “do not feel pay and conditions are guaranteed”; “do not feel we should change what is already outstanding”; “do not want to risk the effectiveness of the school by opening another school”. Of the managers – or “leadership team” – 13 out of 20 were in support of the project.

According to the consultation documents, academy status would bring managerial freedoms that could address some of the problems its leadership team is facing. For example, the school could “extend its impact” on specialist education tuition in Camden by “opening additional school provisions” which would “address gaps” in the current system.

Swiss Cottage School could get involved with “opening of a free school”, the documents said. It could also be “creative in design” by providing its own “bespoke curriculum”.

The documents added: “This would not be possible without academy status because the school would not have autonomy on curriculum redesign of the national curriculum, which is necessary to promote holistic development towards aspirational outcomes.”

Speaking to the New Journal at the start of the consultation, the school’s head­teacher, Vijita Patel, said: “We are full. We have no more space to expand in this building but we want to able to increase provision. Camden will still place children here and we will still take them, we want to continue that relationship. You have to look at it in a special needs context and what we provide.”

She added: “We will be open and transparent throughout the process and want to hear from all stakeholders.”

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