Tuesday, 23 July 2013

We've passed 500

More than 550 people have now signed our petition with quite a surge in the wake of the news that there is an alternative to the proposed Free Schools.

Please help us to make it much bigger.

Circulate the online petition link as widely as you can:

Can you help us by downloading a petition and collecting signatures locally?
Download our hard copy petition here

And here are just a few of the comments we've received on the petition from local residents and parents :

"I support LBWF in their proposal to provide state back secondary education for all in Walthamstow and hope the DfE will do the same."

"I would like the whole community to stay together after primary into secondary school. Otherwise it's segregation. The council needs the funds to set up inclusive community schools for all. Secondary education must be a priority. Let excellent primary schools become through schools so they can also provide the secondary years and give parents confidence that children will be looked after well from 11 years up. Keep religion out of schools. Tolerate everyone's beliefs but don't promote religions in school time. Just let children and families practice their religions at home and in their own individual way at school. There is a urgency to provide more secondary quality education. There is a big
demand on primary places and this is going to carry through to secondary."

"My children currently attend Buxton Primary and will go through to the Secondary phase. I fully support this school not only as a parent, but as Primary Staff and in the past as a Parent Governor."

"We have good community schools serving the entire community. Let us not undermine this by pandering to religious groups and middle class parents whose fears are based mainly on ignorance of what the state system has to offer."

"Please consider this petition and the very sensible points it raises. Don't destroy our local school system."
"Support existing schools, and promote integration, rather than segregation."

"We have a 19 month toddler and would like to settle in Waltham Forest long term. We are soon to be moving to Leytonstone. However, we need to be sure that there will be enough secondary school places and good enough schools in the borough. I don't believe in 'free' schools run by, and for, a select few. Quality education should be available to all, this should be a basic right like the National Health service."
"Creating new schools, allowing them to select, thus "proving" they work does not raise standards for all, only widens the gap."
"I feel that all options should be explored before resorting to a free school. In this incredibly diverse community there is such a strong argument for community schools that bring everyone together rather than specialist schools which could drive people apart."

"I am a School Governor in Waltham Forest. Both schools where I am a Governor are Waltham Forest LA schools. There is already provision for single sex education for Secondary School students. I believe that all children in this Borough should have access to the National Curriculum and have fully trained Teachers and Support Staff."

"We need to focus investment on our existing secondary schools and, in particular, invest in some proper sixth form provision as all the secondary schools only run to 16 and therefore limit the pool of possible applicants for teaching posts as the best secondary teachers often prefer to have some A level teaching opportuniities."

"The proposed Free Schools are not necessary, will divide our community and will take scarce resources away from our existing schools. All local schools need to be under local control accountable to tax payers."

Monday, 22 July 2013

A former Waltham Forest headteacher speaks out

Eve Wilson, formerly the headteacher of Willowfields Humanities College, one of our community schools in Waltham Forest, has responded to Tauheedul Free Schools' consultation and has given us permission to post a copy of her response on our blogsite. So here it is in full below. We think you'll agree that it's a powerful and compelling contribution to the public debate in Waltham Forest:

Response to Consultation – Walthamstow Leadership Academy for Girls, Tauheedul Free School:

Tauheedul sets out a compelling vision for its new school in Waltham Forest but despite that  I do not feel that it will serve the best interests of the community.  I have a number of reasons for my views on this matter. 

Firstly, I believe that opening a girls’ school will have a negative impact on the education offered to girls and boys in the borough.  There are already two popular girls’ schools in Waltham Forest, between them admitting 1,500 girls.  I recognise that more parents would like their daughters to attend a girls’ school but unfortunately they would also like their sons to attend a mixed school.  Originally the borough planned to offer exactly the same number of places to boys as to girls but the 6fe boys’ school first became a 4fe school because of lack of demand and then closed altogether leaving only a 4fe boys’ school which has been very undersubscribed for many years despite being academically successful in recent years. 

Until 2011, I was the headteacher of Willowfield Humanities College.  Willowfield is a popular and respected school but nevertheless, because of its proximity to Walthamstow Girls’ School, it had a gender imbalance in favour of boys which was rarely less than 60:40 and occasionally as imbalanced as 70:30.  This resulted in a number of challenges for us in both pedagogical and practical terms, both inside the classroom and in social areas in order to ensure all our students made excellent progress academically and were happy, confident members of our community.  For example, our teachers became proficient at planning to ensure that girls and boys received equal attention inside the classroom but it was more difficult to manage the pressure on boys’ changing room space during PE lessons because of the excess numbers of boys.  This situation would be greatly exacerbated were there to be additional school places for girls that were fully subscribed and it seems very unfair on the many families wishing to choose mixed education for their sons and daughters that genuine mixed education would effectively disappear from Waltham Forest.  Your proposal would, I believe, increase choice for a minority of parents while reducing choice for the majority.

My second concern is the impact on community cohesion.  I recognise that it is Tauheedul’s ambition to attract students of all faiths or none and welcome this.  In practice, however, it has failed to achieve this aim in its schools in Blackburn despite their undoubted academic success.  Currently the quality of social cohesion is an exceptional strength of schools in Walthamstow and indeed in Waltham Forest generally.  There is ample evidence of this in OfSTED reports.  You will, I am sure, agree that there has never been a time when this was more important.  I have no doubt that this is a result of the very diverse communities in schools (currently there is only one faith school in Waltham Forest) and if you speak to young people at school in the borough you will find that this is one of the things they most value about their schools.  They describe how much they value being able to learn from each other about their different cultures and religions.  We often said that at Willowfield we could have taught the people of the world how to live together – the atmosphere of mutual respect and tolerance and rejection of any form of stereotyping was something that could, I am certain, be achieved only through students learning and playing together.

Finally, I should like to point out that the Walthamstow schools have a long established partnership which brings significant benefits for students and for staff development through collaboration rather than competition.  They operate with openness and trust and understand they have a responsibility for all the children in Waltham Forest schools as well as the particular one they have for the students enrolled at their own schools.  It is disappointing that Tauheedul, despite its stated wish to work in partnership with other local schools, has made no effort as far as I am aware to discuss its proposals with existing schools.  Indeed, in the consultation document, the only indication of how this partnership might work is where Tauheedul suggests that it will look to other schools and colleges to provide the curriculum for students unsuited to the one it offers.  This is worrying since it does not resemble the way in which the existing partnership operates.

In short then, because of local circumstances, I believe that despite its track record as an excellent provider of education in other parts of the country, if the Tauheedul free school opens in Waltham Forest, it will disrupt and undermine educational provision across the borough.  I have no doubt that as an organisation of integrity and repute this is not its intention and hope that achieving a greater understanding of the needs of Waltham Forest will cause it to reconsider its proposal.

Eve Wilson

July 2013


Monday, 15 July 2013

It's official - there IS an alternative

Last week, the Local Authority’s Education Service published its plan for expanding Secondary Schools in Waltham Forest and, exactly as we have always predicted, it proves that there is NO NEED for the proposed Free Schools.

It also shows that the Council have very serious concerns about the Free School proposals and want to be able to implement their plan without them.

The document is comprehensive and deserves reading in full, which you can do here. But here we will draw out the key points made in the document.

1. There’s no need for the Free Schools

Contrary to the slightly hysterical fear-mongering propaganda that was put out by Oasis in particular around the time that they were gathering support for their proposal, it is possible to address the demand for places without building their, or Tauheedul’s proposed Free Schools.

The Council’s plan is complex and detailed but in essence it proposes two phases of expansion. In the first phase, covering the projected rise in demand up to 2015/16, the plan proposes working in partnership with interested existing secondary schools to provide additional classes, initially at least, on a temporary basis. This is partly because funding for capital developments is only available on an annual basis and partly because until a final decision on the Free Schools is made, no one will know what the real demand in the next few years will be.

In the second phase, from 2016/17, the Council plan proposes building a new secondary school. The Council’s appears to propose that this will be a new academy, with the preferred bidder for a sponsor being an existing Waltham Forest secondary school. The criteria for the bidders to meet emphasise things like demonstrating their familiarity with the community, ability to work in partnership with the Local Authority, a demonstrable record in carrying out meaningful consultations and a range of other objectives that sponsors like Oasis and Tauheedul will, frankly, find it hard to meet.

The Council plan is quite clear, this is the most cost effective and rational way of planning expansion to meet the demand for places as it grows. While an academy school will not be welcome for many, this represents a better option than the Free Schools and if it is indeed sponsored by a local secondary school and required to match the criteria for partnership working and high standards as laid out in the document, that arguably makes it as close to being a new community school as the Coalition government’s legislation allows.

2. The proposed Free Schools will actually make things worse:

It is clear from the plan that the Council views the Free Schools as causing more problems than they promise to solve. Here’s why:

The proposals are not worked out in partnership with the Council. They don’t cater for the demand for places as it really emerges on the projections in the document. In fact, if they open when they propose to open, the Free Schools will create a temporary surplus of places. As evidence from around the country shows, and we always insisted, this will lead them to compete directly with our local community schools, damaging them in the process by taking pupils and resources away.

Secondly, even when demand for places grows, the Free Schools don’t provide enough. Worse still, they are making it harder for the Council to plan to meet that demand. Until the final decision is taken about whether the Free Schools will be part of the mix, no one knows what will be needed and the Council can’t plan to meet it. Not that Michael Gove and the mandarins at the Department for Education care about that, of course, because it’s all part of the glorious rationality of destructive markets, before which our communities must bow, but let’s remember that the Free Schools were sold to local parents as a solution to growing demand. It’s clear now that they aren’t.

The Council has concerns about the quality of the educational provision offered by the Free Schools and their impact on our community:

Interestingly, the Council contrasts the improving Ofsted results in Waltham Forest’s secondary schools and contrasts them with the results of the Oasis chain of schools. Oasis’s schools perform consistently below the national secondary school average and they underperform against Waltham Forest’s schools. As for Tauheedul, the document echoes our own concerns about the impact of another single-sex school, especially another girl’s school, on the gender mix in the borough’s other schools. Something that is supposed to be about choice will in fact reduce choice for those parents who want their children to attend co-educational schools.

3. Democracy and accountability:

It is interesting to note throughout how the open and democratic this process has been and will be, in contrast to the proposed Free Schools. The whole plan is transparent and based on consultation and partnership. It will be open to questioning and scrutiny. The appendices detail how community consultation has taken place in previously approved school expansions.

This all contrasts sharply with the obscure processes of pseudo-consultation used to evidence local demand for the Free Schools. The consultations held by Oasis and Tauheedul to date and the farcical consultation being held by Tauheedul now, are a disgrace and should offend anyone who like to think that we live in a democratic society.

4. And finally…The Secretary of State reserves the right to ignore the Local Authority and the people of Waltham Forest:

The final key point, made in the plan, is that the Council’s position is not an easy one. No matter how sensible its plan, how rationally it caters to real demand projections and no matter what its reservations about the Free Schools, the Secretary of State can simply ignore it.

If we let him.

The plan notes that the Local Authority will make an assessment of its preferred bidder for the new secondary school, but that the Secretary of State ‘will reserve the right to put in place a proposer of his own choice’.

So there we have it. Michael Gove knows who should run a school in Waltham Forest better than the Local Authority, better than the other schools and better than any of us.

5. What we can do:

We now know that there is a viable alternative, as indeed, we always argued there was.

But, as we noted recently, this is a system designed not to listen to the concerns of lcol communities. There is only one way to make sure that the Secretary of State knows that if he imposes his own choice, there will be an outcry in Waltham Forest.

Sign our petition and help make it impossible to ignore.

If you haven’t already done so, now is the time to make your voice heard. Sign online here:

Say no to Michael Gove’s experimental religious schools and yes to a planned, democratic alternative based on partnership and our own community schools. 

Monday, 8 July 2013

So, who are Tauheedul and why are we worried about their Free School?

Who are Tauheedul Free Schools?

Tauheedul Free Schools is one of a number of related organisations under the Tauheedul Islam Faith, Education and Community Trust (TIFECT) umbrella.

TIFECT set up the Tauheedul Islam Girls' High School in Blackburn as an independent secondary school in 1984. It was financially supported by the Tauheedul Islam Mosque. It became a voluntary aided school within Blackburn with Darwen in 2005. Its current admissions policy gives preference to children with a connection to the Tauheedul Islam Mosque and three other named Mosques. These share Deobandi Hanafi values, one of the most common denominations of Mosque in the UK, with establishments in Walthamstow, Leyton and Leytonstone.

The much newer Tauheedul Islam Boys School in Blackburn opened last September, and is a faith-based Free School operated by the Tauheedul Free Schools Trust. This proposal was not supported by the Local Authority.

The boys and girls schools are over-subscribed. According to an article in the Guardian from earlier this year, there is only one non Muslim pupil at the boys school. 

The Tauheedul Free Schools Trust also plans to open two faith-based primary schools in September 2013: The Olive School Blackburn and the Olive School Hackney.

These have been given approval by the Department for Education.

There is also an organisation called TS Academies or TSA. Although it has the same address and visual branding, TSA has dropped the name Tauheedul. TSA plans to run non-selective, non-denominational academies. Their governing council includes a set of people who work as education consultants and a set of names associated with the existing Tauheedul schools.

Witton Park High School in Blackburn will be the first academy sponsored by TSA – their governors voted for this in March.

TSA is already a partner in the National Challenge Trust that operates Blackburn Central High School (formerly Blakewater College). Mufti Hamid Patel, the principal of the girls’ school, is Chair of Governors at Blackburn Central.

Tauheedul now propose to open a Muslim secondary school for girls in central Walthamstow. This will be called Waltham Forest Leadership Academy for Girls.

Waltham Forest Leadership Academy for Girls: A lack of transparency and

meaningful consultation:

From the start, Tauheedul’s proposed Free School has been characterised by a lack of transparency.

Details of their proposals are still not on their website.

Our Community, Our Schools wrote to Tauheedul asking them what consultation they had undertaken to date and what plans they had for consulting in the future.

Their reply said:

“we have been actively working with members of the local community for over 18 months.   During this time, we have engaged in a regular dialogue and consultation with a whole range of individual and community stakeholders, including the Local Authority and local residents. We have taken on board their comments, aspirations and concerns in developing our proposal for the 'Waltham Forest Leadership Academy for Girls' that is currently being considered by the Department for Education.”

No details of any meetings, discussions or of any way in which the comments, aspirations and concerns had been registered or addressed have been given. 

The Tauheedul consultation document says that: The Tauheedul Free Schools’ Trust has consulted widely with the local community to arrive at a curriculum that reflects the aspirations of young people and their parents’
They have as yet provided no evidence of any specific activities that formed this consultation.

Tauheedul’s consultation states that they want to work with local schools to deliver vocational training.

Yet they have not been in contact with any of the local schools to even see if this is possible.

The consultation period for the Hackney school was just 6 weeks from press release to close, and had a single public meeting 4 days after the press release:


The consultation period for Waltham Forest’s proposed Free School is 10 June – 19 July, yet there was no public announcement. As of 5th July, well over half way through the consultation, it’s not even on their website.http://www.tauheedulschools.com/press-releases.html This does not constitute a genuine consultation.

Impact on other schools:

In addition to concerns about the impact of competitive Free Schools on our local community, we have concerns that are particular to Tauheedul’s proposed Muslim Girl’s school.

We are concerned at the possible impact on the gender balance of other community schools.
Tauheedul’s consultation states there is parental demand for a girls' school. Yet Walthamstow already has one girl’s school (the borough of Waltham Forest has two).

Another girl’s school in Walthamstow will further skew the gender mix of the surrounding co-educational schools in favour of boys and they risk becoming de facto boys’ schools.

Boys' schools are rarely popular. The danger is that those who can afford to move away will do so at an even greater rate than they do now, and those left behind, and that includes Muslim boys, will find themselves in more challenging schools.

We are also concerned that a Muslim faith school will produce division and segregation.

While Tauheedul’s consultation document says that they intend to take in a proportion of non-Muslim pupils, there are indications that their schools in Blackburn have failed in this aim.

The  Girl’s school Principal Mufti Hamid Patel was quoted in 2010 saying: “Come back in five years and I guarantee [we] will have white families”.

A year later he said: “Come back here in 10 years and ask me if we have non-Muslim pupils - the answer will be yes."http://www.tes.co.uk/article.aspx?storycode=6081589

There is also some indication that Tauheedul schools in Blackburn have generated concerns about their inclusiveness within the Blackburn Muslim Community, favouring a particular religious and ethnic also ethnic group:

We think that if Tauheedul genuinely want to contribute to the Big Society as an aim, it would be better to open a mixed secular school, where everyone is genuinely welcome.
If we and our children are going to learn to respect, appreciate and understand one another, we need to educate our children together.

Waltham Forest already has many faith schools and single sex schools. We believe that more single sex faith schools will be extremely divisive in Waltham Forest.

Make your voice heard by responding to Tauheedul’s consultation document by 19th July here:

Monday, 1 July 2013

300 signatures in a week!

A massive thank you to everyone who has signed our new petition. It took us just over a week to reach 300. When you think that our last petition took a month to reach 200, that is a testament to the growing profile that this issue has in the borough.

We're getting good coverage in the local press too, with recent reports in the Walthamstow Guardian, which you can read here and also, more recently, here.

We need to keep on pushing now to make this petition as big as it can be before the end of term.
We have a real chance to stop the proposed Free Schools and to win support for an alternative solution to the demand for secondary school places that allows our community schools to expand.

How you can help us build the petition:

We have been out petitioning and leafleting around the schools this week and we're out again next week. This is our known petitioning schedule over the next week:

Fri 5 July: 8:30am @Henry Maynard Juniors (Mel and Mickey)

Mon 8 July: 8:30am @ Barncroft (Mark - 07881 586667)

Mon 8 July: 8.45am @Winn’s (Jonathan)

Tues 9 July: 8.30am @Henry Maynard Juniors (Mel an Jonathan)

 Fri 12 July: 3:30pm @ Thomas Gamuel (Mark - 07881 586667)

If you can join us and help us, please do!

If you can do your school and want some support, email us at wfdefendstateschools@gmail.com and we will try to get someone to come and help you.

If there is anything you can do to help get our petition circulating on networks or email lists in the borough that you may be part of please do so. Every signature counts.

Follow our campaign:

Sign up for blog updates on our homepage.

Also, follow us on Twitter at @OurSchoolsE17

And we're on Facebook here:https://www.facebook.com/groups/577376562284827/

And here are just a few of your comments so far:

This is just a few of the comments left on our petition, giving a flavour of the kind of response we're getting and the concerns being raised by residents of Waltham Forest:

“We need resources putting into our excellent existing schools, not fringe groups trying to set up non-accountable schools that are not wanted by the majority.”

I would like the goverment to focus on improving existing community schools rather than giving money to free schools - often faith-led - who will not be held accountable to the local community.

I think I can say that what most of us want is good quality state schools that have democratic oversight by local authorities. I think people locally should have the right to decide what sort of system they want, what works for them as a community in other words.

“Free schools built in the wrong place without local consultation are a scandalous waste of money during times of austerity, taking much needed funding away from the majority of children in an area, to fund a privileged few. Free schools are blighting our communities and turning parents against each other! Proponents of Free Schools do not consult the local community and their impact statements are laughable. Problems are appearing all over the country, from Bideford to Stoke Poges, London to Suffolk and beyond. It is a disgrace and our kids deserve better from this government!”

Please save us from Free Schools. There are some highly dubious groups involved in them in Waltham Forest, including an organisation that is proud of its Christian ethos on its website, but does not mention it at all in literature aimed at parents in LBWF.

I am against Free Schools, the main reason being that we have done decades of work to integrate our various faiths within one community and I am proud of our country's efforts to do this. If something as important as education is to be conducted seperately this sends us back decades at a time when extremists would love to promote exclusivity. This can only be bad for the community and more importantly bad for the children.

“The lack of accountability for free schools is very worrying. They are undermining the state school sector and are also largely faith based which only encourages segregation and exclusion.”

I feel that free schools, especially faith schools will deepen the divide in the community. Until recently Waltham Forest, a very diverse cultural community, appears to have little racial discord. I worry that with the recent upturn in religious motivated crimes, that segregating pupils will lead to an inherent lack of cohesion between faiths in my community. My children went to a good local community school, with strong community ethos and clear regulations, set out by the Local Education Authority, that had to be followed. I strongly disagree with this proposal and feel that free schools will undermine the great work done by community schools in this area.

“We have local schools that are rated very highly by Ofsted and which form the central focus of our tight knit community. The way forward is to support these schools that are used by all members of our community, not to bring in these Free Schools.”

The Local Authority is best placed to monitor demand and ensure schools have the capacity to cope. What happens to free schools once demand shrinks?