Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Another Councillor announces their support

More good news tonight as a third Councillor has announced their support for our campaign and their absolute opposition to the proposed Free School. Here is Councillor Paul Douglas from Chapel End ward:

"I too am unequivocally opposed to Free Schools in Waltham Forest (or indeed anywhere)".

Our thanks to Councillor Douglas for this statement.

We'd encourage all our supporters to write to their Councillors using our resources here:

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Local Councillors come out against Free Schools:

Following letters from Defend Waltham Forest State Schools supporters, two Councillors have already written back to indicate their support for our campaign. Wood Street ward councillors Angie Bean and Peter Barnett have sent us the following replies:

Councillor Angie Bean, Wood Street ward: “I do not support or encourage these Schools.  The Labour party will reverse this legislation when they come to power. Regards Angie.”

Councillor Peter Barnett, Wood Street ward, “I am happy to make clear my total opposition to free schools for all the reasons you lay out in both your emails.  I assure you I will do all I can to represent that view in council.”

It’s really good news that our concerns will be raised in the Council and a big thanks to our Councillors for coming out in support of the campaign.

If you haven't already done so, please write to your councillors today. You can find out how to do this and some model text you might wish to use here:

It’s also interesting to note that the prospect is raised here of Labour reversing the legislation that ties the hands of Councils in relation to their options for building new schools.

Labour’s position on Free Schools is not absolutely clear, as indicated here, but they do echo concerns we have raised here, such as:
  • “The schools are being funded by money taken from other schools
  • There is no account of how the schools will be joined up with other local schools and services. We don’t want a free-for-all undermining other schools”
At the least, it seems highly likely that if Labour were to win the next election, the strong-arm promotion of Free Schools will end and that Councils will have more freedom to explore other ways of catering to growing demand, which removes much of the – incorrect - ‘there’s no alternative’ rationale underpinning WSSI and Oasis’s proposals.

Those people who have been tempted by the WSSI/Oasis propaganda might reflect not only on the impact that a Free School could have on the borough’s local authority schools, but also on the fact that the national policy scene could change fast. Even, conceivably, before the Free School gets built.  

Friday, 16 November 2012

More than 200 signatures and growing - keep it up!

Our petition has now reached 228 signatures and continues to grow. Keep it up and ask everyone you know in Walthamstow to sign and circulate it.

The unacceptable price of competition

On this blogsite we have consistently warned that a Free School in Walthamstow would inject more damaging competition into our local community. Because it would be outside local authority control, if succeeds, or if demand in the borough drops off (as the most recent projections indicate it might), we argue that the Free School would then start to damage other community schools. Anyone who read TheIndependent on Wednesday will have seen the shocking story of Harrowden Middle school, a school rated good by Ofsted, with outstanding features  which nonetheless faces closure because of the competition from local academies. The local authority does not control the academies so faced with a problem of having to close a school, it has to close one of the perfectly good schools it does control.
The general secretary of the National Association of Headteachers, Russell Hobby was quoted saying: “With a more fragmented system, the ability to plan at a local level will disappear. Local authorities will only have limited influence on future planning - and they’re going to have to make more and more decisions like this. The competition between schools could lead to a whole level of weakened schools.”

This makes clear exactly what the proponents of a Free School are doing, despite their undoubtedly good intentions. They are unintentionally assisting in the creation of a chaotic market in schools that will further damage existing schools in the community.

There’s still time for those who signed up for a new school (did they sign up for a Free School?) to support the better option – sign our petition and call for our existing local schools to be allowed to expand to address the needs of our community’s children.

Lobby your Councillors

How to find your local Councillors:

You can find out who your local Councillor is using the Council's website here:

Model Letter (Please feel free to adapt)


I am writing to you as a constituent of your ward in Waltham Forest to ask you to support our campaign against plans to set up a Free School in Walthamstow. I am a signatory of a petition that has gathered more than 200 signatures from local residents in just under four weeks and it continues to grow.
The petition raises concerns that a Free School will increase damaging competition between schools in our community, sucking resources away from local authority schools. It also expresses concern that this school will be unaccountable to the community as a whole, increase selection and will represent a decisive move toward privatising our school system. Many people are also concerned that the school’s sponsor is an evangelical religious charity called Oasis Community Learning.
The petition calls on the Council to campaign for to put pressure on the Department for Education to allow the Local Authority to expand our existing schools, replicating the amazing achievements of London Councils this year in expanding primary provision to meet the growing demand.

We believe that this would address any immediate problems with school places, while preserving the flexibility which would be lost with the introduction of an aggressively competitive and divisive Free School into our community.

I would be grateful if you would raise this issue with the Local Council. I would also be grateful if you could send a statement of support for this campaign.

You can find out more about the campaign and the petition here:
Yours sincerely,

Friday, 9 November 2012

Who really speaks for Walthamstow residents?

Our petition now has more than 180 signatures on it, in just over three weeks, which is a great achievement. We need to ask you to help us now by forwarding the petition link to your family and your friends in Waltham Forest.

Here is the link to the petition:

We now urgently need to make this a massive petition. Here’s why.

Oasis and WSSI have issued a joint press release announcing the end of their consultation.

Oasis and WSSI’s claim that they have won 500 supporters over the last five months. Presumably, these supporters have been counted using those people who answered the question ‘would you like a new school?’ The consultation did not ask if people would like a Free School, nor were they asked to state whether that was their preference.

By contrast, our petition, calling for any expansion of schooling to be from our existing local authority schools has won 181 signatures in just over three weeks.

In spite of this, WSSI’s Jen Powell has a quote attributed to her in which she says she is ‘thrilled by the overwhelming support of local parents’! We’d be interested in your thoughts on this.

We think that makes it imperative to build our petition now and to start using it to pressure our local councillors and our local MP. We will be sending out more advice on how to do this shortly.

In the meantime, you can read the full press release from Oasis/WSSI here.

Please forward the link to the petition to your family and friends and urge them to sign. We want to leave the council, our MP and the Department for Education in no doubt how Walthamstow residents really feel.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Packed public meeting says no to academies and Free Schools

Defend Waltham Forest State Schools’ petition received a major boost yesterday when it was circulated at a packed public meeting called by Walthan Forest Anti-Academies campaign to raise the profile of the attack on local authority schools in the borough and in particular the plans to turn Connaught School into an Academy.

Alasdair Smith, Chair of the Anti-Academies Alliance, which has led national and local campaigning against academy schools alongside the teaching unions, opened the meeting with a passionate attack on the myth that academy status brings improvement to schools. He pointed to the government’s agenda to decisively break up the local authority state school system by coercing individual schools into taking up academy status, stating that this was effective privatisation in the field of education. Alasdair urged the Walthamstow and Leyton communities to rally behind the NUT teachers at Connaught taking strike action this week against the plans to turn Connaught into an Academy.

Tom Taylor, a parent of children at Connaught and a governor at the school, told the meeting how the school’s leaders had misled parents, teachers and other governors, citing supposed Local Authority support for their plans, before pushing them through without any consultation or real democratic process. Tom urged the need to use the full range of tactics including legal and procedural challenges, democratic mass pressure from the community and strike action to win battles in each school under threat from the academy programme.

Jonathan White from Defend Waltham Forest State Schools explained the connection between the academies programme and the government’s promotion of Free Schools, reiterating Alasdair Smith’s point that both were about the break up and privatisation of state schools, noting that this was being done by the government in the interests of powerful education businesses who want to enter the UK schools ‘market’. He urged that the proposed Free School was being promoted by people who were effectively manipulating real fears about pressure on school places but who were not themselves looking at the reality in the borough or the best ways of tackling the local need. He went on to outline the reasons why parents in Walthamstow had come together to form the campaign, ranging from opposition to Free Schools as a bad solution to the demographic issues in the borough, to concerns about the religious orientation of the sponsoring company, Oasis Community Learning and fears about the damage to the community’s schools that would follow. Jonathan finished by thanking the meeting for the opportunity to put the campaign’s case, urging support for the Connaught teachers and asking everyone to sign the petition.

Friday, 26 October 2012

Latest news - Petition passes 100!

100 Signatures!

We have just passed 100 signatures on our petition after exactly 10 days. Given that we are a new campaign, with no resources, no money and starting from scratch, I think that's fantastic progress. Well done and thank you to everyone! We need to keep pushing this in the local community to make it something that's impossible to ignore but this is a good platform to start to build some pressure.

Sign our petition here

And pass it on to help it grow!

Leafletting at Henry Maynard:

Earlier this week a few of us did some leafletting at Henry Maynard infants school and got rid of 50 leaflets in about 10 minutes. There was lots of interest in the issue and it would be great if we could start to take the petition out around more of the schools in Walthamstow.

You can download leaflets and petitions here:

Just email to find out where to send completed forms.

We're on Twitter!

Defend Waltham Forest State Schools is now on Twitter! Please follow us here @SaveE17Schools.
Public meeting: No Academy at Connaught School - 6 November:

The Waltham Forest Anti-Academy campaign, with whom we are working closely, is holding a public meeting on the threat to a local school in Leyton. It would be great if we could make sure some of us can get there. It will be another opportunity to raise the issue of the Free School. I will be there and hope to see some of you too.

Speakers to include: John Cryer, MP for Leyton & Wanstead, Tabusam Ahmed, Connaught parent, Alasdair Smith, Anti Academies Alliance,
Tuesday 6th November 7pm, @ George Mitchell School, Farmer Road, Leyton, E10 5DN

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Oasis-WSSI report on consultation meeting

Oasis and the WSSI, the two organisations proposing to build a Free School in Walthamstow, have now produced a report on the recent consultation meeting, held on 8 October at St Mary's School.

You can read their full report here:

Several supporters of this campaign attended this meeting and can check the account above against their own recollection.

A few comments on this report though. The first is that perhaps inevitably it is a slightly slanted account. What was in fact a tense and meeting is referred to politely here as a 'lively discussion'.

There were a range of questions broadly around the theme of the impact that the Free School would have on the borough's schools. In the above account this is reduced to the folllowing:

"3. Concern about the negative impact that this will have on other schools in the borough. PR advised that Oasis’s intention is to create a fantastic learning community in Walthamstow and a local school which children can walk to, rather than attending secondary school out of the borough.

JP advised that WSSI and Oasis have been advised by LBWF that additional secondary school places are needed in the area and we are seeking this data from the council. "

There are a couple of things to note here. Firstly, there was indeed a fairly lively discussion around whether there was a properly researched need for a new school with several people making the point about the future dip in projected demand and the problems this could cause in the future. A local authority school-led expansion in places could later be adjusted for if demand proved not to be long-term. Building a new school which would be unable to run a deficit on the other hand would merely import a damaging new competitive element into the school system.

This point was made more than once but more than one person, yet it does not appear in the record of the meeting. Neither do the answers given under heading 3 remotely address the issue. What Oasis say they intend is neither here nor there. The question is what will be the actual practical impact of this proposal and what will be the result of their actions.

The minute attributing to Jen Powell the claim that Oasis and WSSI have been advised by the council of the need for additional secondary places is also slightly misleading. It almost appears as though the Council approached Oasis and WSSI for assistance in providing this supply. In fact, neither WSSI or Oasis appeared to be conscious of the council's own documents projecting future demand (linked from this site). The only claim made by one individual was that a Council officer had said, off the record, that they were 'glad someone was going to build a new school'. Quite apart from the dubious act of quoting an off-the-record discussion in a public consultation, (how can this be checked or verified? Should we ask the council?) this is not quite the same as the claim made above.

Monday, 22 October 2012

New leaflet and downloadable petition

Our petition has made a strong start in just a few days, with almost 60 signatures already. It's clear that we've struck a chord with many residents.

Due to popular demand, we've now produced a downloadable leaflet which can be used when talking to other parents and residents and a downloadable version of the petition.

The leaflet is here:

And you can download the petition here:

If you have completed petition forms, contact to find out where to send them and then we will upload them to the online petition.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

New Petition launched - Support our local authority schools

Defend Waltham Forest State Schools has launched a new petition. This is aimed at putting pressure on the Council and the Department of Education to recognise that the answer to any growing need for school places lies in expanding access to our local authority schools, not in risky and worrying experiments with Free Schools.

Sign our new petition here

And pass it on to help it grow!

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Some truths about the demand for School Places in Waltham Forest

Those who attended the recent consultation meeting convened by WSSI and Oasis Community Learning will have heard a variety of claims made about the size of the projected shortfall in secondary school places. Between 250 next year and 1000.

Yet oddly, neither appeared familiar with a document that we have seen, produced by the Local Authority, which gives projections for the trends in demand for both primary and secondary school places in the borough.

The document is publicly available and can be downloaded here:

What does this document show?

The document shows that the borough are projecting a rise in demand for secondary places in the next few years. Thus far, the fears of a shortage of school places, used by Oasis and WSSI in their literature, can be said to be real.

However, it's also important to note that the projections of secondary school demand are based on the trends in primary school age pupil demand. The projections show a very large bulge in reception age children, peaking in 2014/15 and 2015/16 and then falling year on year. Demand drops substantially and is not projected to be a permanent feature.

It is a reasonable supposition that this drop in demand will work its way through to be reflected in the figures for demand for secondary school places.

Why is this important? It is important for two related reasons.

1. These projections are not being used by WSSI and Oasis. In fact when this point was raised by those attending the recent consultation meeting, the response was, 'but we can't be sure' or 'we need a school now'. These responses lead to the second important point about the figures. Is a Free School the appropriate response to a bulge in demand that may well be temporary?

2. As the document shows, the Local Authority has a range of mechanisms open to it to deal with temporary expansions in demand. It can allow temporary expansions in the supply of places. If it is allowed the budget, it can address this issue and then ensure that any contraction in demand does not result in a surplus of school places later on.

A Free School is not accountable to the Local Authority and the council has no control over it. Free Schools cannot run even temporary deficits (as Oasis were at pains to assure us) and funding follows pupils. So they must carry on recruiting and filling their places regardless of what actual demand is. In this case, the Free School would start to take pupils away from existing Local Authority schools and damage them in the process. In this way, the Free School can be said to behave in a manner akin to a parasite within a delicate school eco-system.

The National Union of Teachers has begun to document where this is happening already and you can read their document here


Monday, 8 October 2012

Defend Waltham Forest State Schools

We are group of parents and local residents who have come together because we are deeply concerned at proposals to set up a Free School in Walthamstow.

If there is a need for more school places in our borough, it should be met by expanding our existing Local Authority Schools.

What is being proposed?

A group of local residents called Walthamstow Secondary Schools Initiative and an evangelical religious charity called Oasis Community Learning are proposing to establish a Free School in Walthamstow.

They claim that there will soon be a shortage of places and that the answer to this is to set up a new school, which they claim will be open to children of all faiths or none.

Why are we opposing this?

1.       There’s no need for a Free School

Oasis and WSSI are making some claims about an imminent shortage of places but they are vague about exactly what research they have done into projections for the future of demand. Local Authority figures on primary school places appear to show a bulge in demand in the next few years, but they also indicate a later drop. This is important because if demand is not what the Free School are claiming, it will cause problems for the other schools in the area, as detailed below. If there is a problem, a Free School is not the answer.

2.       Free Schools bring damaging competition into schooling

Because they are outside Local Authority control and planning, but receive funding from the government for the pupils they get, Free Schools compete for places with our existing schools and the Local Authority cannot control their expansion. Local Authorities, given proper funding, have the means to be able to expand or contract school provision around actual demand. Free Schools are outside of Local Authority control and they are not allowed to run deficits. If demand slackens or is not as much as predicted, to survive the school will have to actively poach pupils from other schools and they will cause damage to the other schools in the borough and local area. The National Union of Teachers has already compiled evidence of this happening where Free Schools have been set up.

3.       Free Schools can increase selection

Free Schools elsewhere have introduced selection criteria, often on the basis of religious or ability. Cherry-picking the ‘best’ pupils helps to skew their Ofsted ratings.  This is not just unfair but damages other schools.

4.       Oasis Community Learning 

We are concerned at the idea of Oasis controlling a Free School. They are an evangelican Baptist charity who run several academies but it’s not clear that they are up to the job. Southampton MP John Denham questioned their fitness to run schools after pupils went on the rampage at one of their academy schools in the city, while another was recently hit by strike action after it summarily sacked 13 teachers.

5.       Free Schools are a big step toward schools run for profit 

Michael Gove and the head of Ofsted are both in favour of allowing Free Schools to be run for profit. Powerful US education businesses are lobbying to be allowed to do this. If the Free School in Walthamstow runs into problems it could be sold to one of these firms. This is what happened with the Charter Schools in the US and the results have been disastrous.

We are parents and local residents and we understand the anxieties that have led some parents to think about this option.

But this is not the answer.

There is an alternative:

The WSSI and Oasis are making much of the fact that any new school must either be an Academy or a Free School. That is true but it is not the only solution to any necessary expansion of places.

The Local Authority has recently allowed primary schools in the borough to expand their places to address the problems of the short-term bulge in demand.

In addition, the local MP Stella Creasy recently ran a successful campaign to win more funding for the borough's local schools.

We think Waltham Forest residents should be learning these lessons and building a positive campaign to build a mass petition and create real pressure on the government to allow the Local Authority to expand our existing schools.

This would address the immediate problems while preserving the flexibility which would be lost with the introduction of an aggressively competitive Free School into our community, which is only serving to divide our communities and promote the government's agenda.

Add your name to our petition calling on the Secretary of State to allow Local Authority schools to expand to address any shortfall in places.

Sign our new petition here