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.