This is a summary of the press release issued by Lewisham NUT 25th September 2008
Warnings ignored – legal challenge served
Last month Lewisham Council’s Mayor and Cabinet chose to proceed with their decision to create a new “all-age” school on the present site of Lewisham Bridge Primary School.
But this decision was made despite repeated reminders from the NUT – both locally and nationally – that it believed that the decision would be in breach of section 14(6) of the Education Act 1996. Regrettably the Council chose to ignore our warnings. As a result, the NUT has been forced to issue our leagal challenge.
‘Securing primary and secondary education in separate schools’
The challenge points to the statutory need contained in the 1996 Act for Local Authorities to secure that “primary and secondary education are provided in separate schools”. In other words, children beneath the age of 12 should be taught in separate schools to older pupils. As the law stands, this means that Lewisham’s decision to build an ‘all-age’ school for children aged 3-16 is open to challenge.
Are ‘all-age’ schools the way forward? Real debate needed
This legal requirement, restricting the creation of schools which are not solely primary or secondary schools, is nothing new. It was first introduced in the Education Act 1944 and has never since been repealed. But this isn’t just a legal nicety. The legislation reflects a long-standing view that different approaches need to be taken to teaching children of different ages. Any change to this approach needs careful debate – but that just hasn’t happened.
In contrast, when some Authorities wanted to try a different approach and introduce ‘middle schools’ in the 1960s, the educational debate led to the law being amended to allow the change. If ‘all-age’ 3-16 schools are the way forward then a full debate is needed first – any law change can then follow.
Lewisham Council ignores parental concerns
In keeping with their approach over other controversial educational initiatives – such as the handing over of Monson School to Haberdashers’ Aske’s Hatcham College Academy and the reorganisation of special needs – Lewisham Council has again chosen to brush aside the well-founded concerns of parents and staff rather than engage in genuine debate.
Council officers have reasserted the benefits they hope all-age schooling can provide in linking primary and secondary practice together. However, they have completely failed to take seriously any other points of view.
Lewisham NUT has consistently asked for further research into both the potential advantages and disadvantages of this form of school organisation in general – and whether it can work on this particular site.
Teachers and pupils have questioned whether primary practice could suffer in a secondary-dominated federation. The effect on admissions across the borough at both primary and secondary age has never been explained. Parents have raised concerns about the health and safety of younger pupils, and the need for sufficient separate play space for different ages, particularly when the plans for the new building have never been properly discussed with them.
Another sorry chapter in Lewisham’s handling of the demand for a new school
This legal challenge is just the latest chapter in the Council’s mishandling of parents’ demands for a new secondary school to meet the shortfall of places in the north of the borough.
Lewisham Bridge School was originally rejected as a possible site. After alternative plans to build on Ladywell Leisure Centre were abandoned, the Council resurrected the idea of using the Elmira Street site, this time for an all-age school to be established by the Leathersellers’ Company – rather than the community school that was originally planned.
Unfortunately, the NUT suspects that this approach is driven largely by an ideological agenda to hand over more Local Authority schools into the hands of Trusts and Academies.
Of course, the central Lewisham site is still a long way from the north of the borough. Further, in trying to address the issue of secondary places, the plan reduces the provision of primary places in the area – just when the new building work around Elmira Street further increases primary demand. The danger is that, this time at a primary age, the Council are again blundering over the provision of school places.
Listen to parents and staff
“The Council have nobody else but themselves to blame for this legal challenge.
We hope that, this time, the Mayor will recognise that he needs to listen to parents, staff and their trade unions, instead of just imposing initiatives that have not been properly thought through.
Lewisham Council needs to step back and urgently open a genuine discussion about what is the right way forward for primary and secondary education”.
Martin Powell-Davies, Secretary, Lewisham NUT
M: 07946 445488 Office: 020 8314 7487