School closure greeted with boos by pupils

Children claim Hackney Downs' bad reputation is unfair as Education Association condemns standards
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The news, when it came, was met with a roar of disapproval that could be heard from way outside Hackney Downs School. Far from rejoicing in the closure of a school variously described as appalling, ungovernable, and academically poor, its 206 pupils were making their feelings known in the only way available to them - by booing.

When they emerged 10 minutes later from the special assembly, clutching letters for their parents which announced the closure, the children were more vocal. They did not want their school to close. Nor were they happy with going to Homerton House, the nearby school to which they were to be transferred.

"I feel really bad," said 15-year-old Daniel Cope, who is studying for eight GCSEs. "I'm not going to Homerton House. My mate goes there and he says it's rubbish. There's a lot of bullying and lots of crime."

He was worried at reports that classes held at Homerton House differed from his existing exam course. "What's going to happen to my exams," he asked. "It's going to be a disaster. There's no other school I want to go to. I like it here."

His father, Thomas Cope, was waiting outside the school and was equally angry at the news. "I think it's disgusting," he said.

"I asked Daniel if he wanted to transfer there [Homerton] two years ago when the trouble started and he said no. My eldest son, who's now 25, went there and had nothing but trouble because of the behaviour of the pupils. I'll keep Daniel at home and pay for tuition if I have to, but I'm not sending him to that school in the middle of his exams."

Another parent, Farouk Parouty, has two sons at Hackney Downs. He said his eldest, had been offered a place at nearby Kingsland High School. But his youngest son would be kept at home rather than go to Homerton. "It's a long way from our home and I'm not satisfied by their educational standards. Here my eldest boy got good reports and he was top of his class."

He believed, like many parents and pupils, that the school did not deserve its bad reputation. He had taken part in the 10-month campaign which successfully petitioned Hackney's educational authorities to keep it open. "We were quite optimistic," he said. "This has just come out of the blue."

The letter sent home to parents claimed: "In the view of the Education Association the school has a long way to go to achieve satisfactory standards of education and internal management and the Education Association doubts if the necessary improvements are realisable."

According to pupils, Brian Bass, the Education Association member who announced the closure, had said there were not sufficient finances and that the number of pupils was too low.

One member of staff, who asked not to be named, said that for two years the school had been forbidden to allow any new pupils to enrol. "We could have taken another 100 per year, but they wouldn't let us," he said. "The director of education three times blocked the appointments of a substantive head so we've only had an acting head. That has not been helpful to the school."

Betty Hales, the acting head of the school, said she was devastated by the judgement. "We are very, very disappointed. It's those taking their exams we're most worried about. It's obviously going to be very difficult for them to be transferred to another school just a few months before their GCSEs." She also expressed concern about the announcement of redundancy for Hackney Downs' 30 teachers.

Mark Lushington, of the Hackney Teachers' Association, the Hackney branch of the NUT, was more forthright. "This is a classic case of blaming the victim," he said, as angry school children kicked their school bags down the road towards home. "Hackney needs this school, as the parents and teachers have proved. This is Politics 1 Education 0. This school just needed more time."