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SPECIAL REPORT: The saga of Roke Primary School


IN THE last week, the fury building among parents over Roke Primary and the Government's intention to turn it into an academy has reached breaking point.

Former head Caroline Phillips has resigned after a period of ill-health, while the heavily opposed potential sponsor, Harris Federation, put up a job advert for the principal position – several hours before the official consultation into the plans closed.

This has all led to an outcry from parents that the process of Roke, in Kenley, being taken over by Harris is already a done deal, despite fierce opposition from the Save Roke campaign, which has received support from governors, local councillors, and Croydon South MP Richard Ottaway.

The story began last summer, when Roke received a 'notice-to-improve' by Ofsted for their 'inadequate' leadership and management.

Malcolm Farquharson, the school's chair of governors, gave a chilling account of how, in September last year, officials from the Department of Education (DfE) came to the school and told the governors in no uncertain terms that unless they co-operated with the Government's move to turn Roke into an academy, they would be fired and replaced.

"I have lodged a complaint with the department about the whole process," he said.

"First we were told we would be fired and replaced by an Interim Executive Board (IEB), and then told this never happened. We have also consistently appealed to the Government to have Riddlesdown [Collegiate, school in Purley] as our academy sponsor rather than Harris."

The DfE denied the charge in a statement:: "It is not true to say that the governors were told they will be sacked. We want to see sustainable improvements at Roke Primary.

"Where under-performance is not being tackled effectively, the Secretary of State [Michael Gove] does have powers to intervene to make sure standards improve."

Both Roke and Riddlesdown were told they did not have the ability to "turn around a failing school" by the DfE, who appointed Harris Federation to take over the primary.

Becky Carrier, a lead member of the Save Roke campaign, has said this reasoning makes no sense when Riddlesdown has worked since last summer to support Roke, and achieved considerable improvements.

Despite marches, protests, petitions and legal advice, the Save Roke campaign has failed to impact on the Government's plans.

After several months of stagnation, a maelstrom of rumours were whipped up again last week after parents were told that the head, Caroline Phillips, would not be returning to the school because of ill-health.

It transpired the next day that she had resigned and would be replaced by an executive head, Christine Barry, in the interim.

Then, to Save Roke's outrage, a job advert for principal at the school appeared through Harris on their website and in the Times Education Supplement.

Mr Farquharson said the governors had met with Croydon Council – who are still responsible for the school – on April 10 to tell them about the head's resignation.

He said: "Harris was there too because it is part of the consultation. They suggested they put the advert up because we were short of time and resources. We thought this was a good idea. I know it looks insensitive."

A Croydon Council spokesman said he could not remember if there had been a discussion as to whether Harris should wait until after the public consultation to release the job advert. A spokesman for Harris, led by the Carpetright magnate and Tory donor Lord Harris, meanwhile said: "The advert prominently says the academy is 'a proposal' and subject to the outcomes of a consultation and the Secretary of State signing a funding agreement.

"The reason for advertising the post now rather than after the consultation is that head teachers need to give notice by the May 31 if they wish to take up the post in September and we needed to allow time for a fair and thorough selection process.

"Given that the head teacher of Roke has resigned, if no recruitment process takes place now, the school would be without a head teacher in September."

As a final nail in the coffin for Save Roke, campaigners discovered Atwood Primary in Sanderstead, which has been rated as 'outstanding' by Ofsted, is now in consultation with Riddlesdown over the secondary becoming an academy sponsor for the primary.

Again, Ms Carrier dismissed the DfE's arguments that Riddlesdown could take on an 'outstanding' school but did not have the experience or ability to turn a failing school around.

"They've been helping us all the way through this, Harris have done nothing," she said.

MP Richard Ottaway has been a fierce critic of the process.

He said: "It seems to me to be a bit premature to advertise the job of head teacher on the day the consultation exercise had closed.

"It is not surprising that some of the parents are calling the Harris takeover a fait accompli.

"Now the decision as to who will sponsor Roke is in the gift of the DfE. I will continue to make representations to urge fair and rigorous consideration of the consultation feedback."

Gordon Smith, principal at Riddlesdown Collegiate, said: "We are proud of the work we have done with Roke to improve their governance, leadership and teaching. We wish them the best of luck as they enter a new phase in their development."

SPECIAL REPORT: The saga of Roke Primary School

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