Class war: parents say no to Gove's forced academy

Hundreds up in arms as improving primary is threatened with change of status

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The Independent Online

More than 600 parents and teachers have embarked on a "David v Goliath" battle to prevent the Government from forcing their school to become an academy. Downhills Primary School in Haringey, north London, is one of 200 singled out by Education Secretary Michael Gove to be turned into academies because of "under performance" in tests for 11-year-olds.

The schools were selected for failing to reach the Government target of getting 60 per cent of pupils to the required standard in English and maths for five consecutive years. However, around 70 schools on the list improved this year and some, such as Downhills, have since turned themselves around and are now making the grade. The last time Ofsted visited Downhills it was noted to be improving and, according to the most recent league tables, there are now 2,500 primary schools in the country with worse results.

Parents, who crammed into a packed school hall on Monday night to protest at Mr Gove's ultimatum, believe the head, Leslie Church, is "inspirational". What incensed them most was the Education Secretary accusing them of being "happy with failure" for opposing his plans. "We're not complacent with failure, we want success," said Dermot MacWard, whose children attend Downhills. "This is an improving school, not a failing one." The parents are planning a march and demonstration a week on Saturday. The local MP, Labour's David Lammy – a former Downhills pupil – has secured a debate in Parliament over the school's future tomorrow.

Legal action is also being mounted, with lawyers set to argue that Mr Gove should have waited until the results of a full Ofsted inspection this spring before acting. Roger Sahota, of the school's governing body, described the move as "very much a case of David versus Goliath". He added: "We don't have anything in terms of the resources that the Department for Education has."

As a last resort, teachers at the school are threatening to take strike action. "It is something we would hold in reserve which we may have to do at some time," said Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, who attended the meeting.

Up to 70 primary schools around the country are waiting to see how Downhills' legal action goes before deciding whether to follow suit. Three others in Haringey face the same fate.

Mr Gove has warned the schools he has the power to sack the governing body, appoint a new headteacher and link the school to a private sponsor if they refuse to become academies.

Mr Lammy said: "I'm hugely grateful to the staff of Downhills." He added: "There are 26 primaries in Surrey [where Mr Gove's constituency is] that have worse performance than this one."

Head praised by parents

Downhills' headteacher Leslie Church has been widely praised by parents for the "inspirational" way he has led the school.

He is caught in the crossfire now, as Education Secretary Michael Gove decides whether to invoke powers to sack the governing body and replace him in his attempt to force the school into becoming an academy.

It would be an unprecedented action stemming from new legislation which came into force this year.

Dermot MacWard, a parent, said of Mr Church: "We have a headmaster here who is an inspirational man – an absolutely inspiring man. He should be enjoying a medal, this man, rather than being attacked."

In its latest report on the school, Ofsted, the education standards watchdog, said: "The school is making satisfactory progress in addressing the issues for improvement and in raising the pupils' achievement."

It was told it had reached the Government's "floor" target of getting 60 per cent of all pupils to the required standard in maths and English. Ofsted added: "The school has a core of experienced senior staff with high levels of expertise."