Academy consultation period extended for parents at two Redbridge schools

St Bede's Primary School, Canon Avenue, Chadwell Heath. Picture: Google

St Bede's Primary School, Canon Avenue, Chadwell Heath. Picture: Google - Credit: Archant

Two Redbridge Catholic primary schools have put off deciding whether to become academies until after the coronavirus lockdown ends.

St Antony's Primary School. Picture: Google Maps

St Antony's Primary School. Picture: Google Maps - Credit: Archant

St Bede’s in Chadwell Heath and St Antony’s in Woodford Green are consulting with parents on whether they should join The Good Shepherd Trust.

Both consultations were originally intended to end on Friday, March 27 but have been extended after pressure from anti-academy campaigners.

St Antony’s has set a new deadline of May 1, while St Bede’s headteacher Gary Nott wrote to parents extending the consultation until “the end of the second week after the school reopens”.

St Bede’s parent and anti-academy campaigner Katie Cotterill said: “We are very relieved that they have not just gone ahead with what their plans were and grateful that we can concentrate on staying alive.

“But it seems very clear that they are eager to push ahead with it and we are very aware that our campaign will have to continue the minute we get back to school.

“There’s not really much we can do at the moment other than wait and pick up where we left off.”

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She added that campaigners planned to hand in a petition with more than 400 signatures once school resumed and could push for another extension.

National Education Union regional organiser Glenn Kelly said: “It was the only logical thing to have done, to have done anything different would have been completely unacceptable.

“Staff have got enough to worry about without wondering whether they were going to come back to a new employer.”

He said the union will continue to campaign against the schools becoming part of the Good Shepherd Trust, which already runs seven east London catholic schools.

Parents and staff fear the trustees could reduce wages and hire unqualified teachers.

They are supported by Redbridge Council, which argues removing schools from local authority scrutiny may lead to a decline in standards.

Among the trust’s academies is St Aidan’s Catholic Primary Academy, Ilford, given the lowest Inadequate rating by Ofsted after converting, and the second lowest Requires Improvement in its last inspection.

St Bede’s currently has Ofsted’s highest Outstanding rating, while St Antony’s is rated Good.

Cllr Paul Donovan (Labour, Wanstead Village) added: “Given the present circumstances, with the coronavirus, there should be no question of the deadline for consultation not being extended.

“There is no way that a proper consultation can take place in the present circumstances under the pre-existing timeframes.”

However, the trust insists converting will improve St Bede’s finances, while promising the governing body will still have a say on how it is run.

Father Headon, a trustee of the Good Shepherd Trust, declined to comment for this article.

But he previously told the Local Democracy Service the benefits of converting were “multiple, first and foremost for the pupils”.

He said: “They benefit the most through their staff working more collaboratively and sharing good practice.

“The service Redbridge Council is giving at the minute for HR and payroll is absolutely dreadful. In a multi-academy trust, those services can be centralised, so you get savings and more money to spend on the children.”