Head quits over Gove's academy ambitions

Governors defiant over 'hit list' as popular headteacher stands aside

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The Independent Online

The headteacher of a primary school fighting against government plans to force it to become an academy has resigned after inspectors declared it to be failing, despite improved results.

Leslie Church bade an emotion farewell to staff and pupils on Friday night. His departure delivers what could be a terminal blow to the campaign to prevent Education Secretary Michael Gove forcing Downhills Primary School in Tottenham, north London, to become an academy .

Hundreds of parents and teachers attended a protest meeting last month, claiming that the school was improving under Mr Church. They were supported by local Labour MP, David Lammy, a former pupil at the school. But Mr Gove labelled his opponents "Trots" who were "happy with failure", adding that academy status offered the best hope of turning round the school.

Downhills is on a government "hit list" of around 200 schools which have failed to reach the its "floor" target of 60 per cent of pupils reaching required standards in maths and English by the age of 11 for five consecutive years. However, Downhills did reach the target last year, having failed to in the five previous years.

About 70 schools are said to be in the same boat. Many oppose academy status which would see them leave local authority control; they would be assigned a sponsor. Mr Gove wants them all to convert within the year.

A compromise was agreed in Downhills' case that the Government would await the outcome of a fresh inspection. However, governors have now been told by Ofsted, the education standards watchdog, that the school must be put in "special measures" – an Ofsted expression for failing. The report has yet to be published.

Mr Church was tremendously popular. A governors' statement said he "retains the full support of the governing body". It added: "We wish him every success in the future."

The governors have refused to resign, and have asked Mr Gove to discuss plans for a consultation process. "It remains our position that any restructuring of the school shouldn't be imposed... until there has been full consultation with parents, staff and the local community," they said.

A spokesman for the Department for Education said: "We have been clear that we consider academy status to be the best way to improve schools that are constantly underperforming." He added that "hundreds of struggling secondary schools across the country" were improving results at twice the national average after a move to academy status. "We can't just stand by and do nothing," he said.

Mr Gove has warned schools on the list that he has the power – under new legislation – to sack a head, make an interim appointment and replace a governing body with an interim education board. He can also ally schools with selected academy sponsors.