Ilford school ‘in trouble’ since joining Catholic academy

The Diocese of Brentwood said it still plans to academise all Catholic schools in Redbridge. Picture

The Diocese of Brentwood said it still plans to academise all Catholic schools in Redbridge. Picture: Andrew Parsons - Credit: PA Archive/PA Images

An Ilford primary school has “been in trouble” since joining a Catholic academy.

At an education scrutiny panel, on Monday (January 14), a Redbridge councillor said that the local authority had to “step in and help” St Aidan’s Catholic Primary Academy, in Benton Road, after it joined the Good Shepherd Trust.

Despite this revelation, the Diocese of Brentwood said it still plans to academise all Catholic schools in Redbridge, including Our Lady of Lourdes, Wanstead, St Antony’s Catholic Primary School, Woodford Green and St Augustine’s, Gants Hill, and refused to discuss proposals with the council.

In a statement read out to the committee, the diocese said it was turning down the opportunity to meet the local authority as it would be “fruitless”.

“The Diocese of Brentwood has made a very clear decision to move towards full academisation over the next three years,” said Robert Simpson, Roman Catholic Diocese of Brentwood director of education.

“As this is a decision made by our bishop about the direction of travel of his schools, it is, with all due respect, not a matter of scrutiny for the local authority. “

Committee chairman, Councillor Joe Hehir, said It was very disappointing that the diocese wouldn’t share their plans

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“We believe it is the wrong route to take but the diocese seems determined to plough on,” he said.

“The meeting noted on more than one occasion how St Aiden’s school had to be helped out by Redbridge, after hitting problems.

“The arrogant disdain shown by the diocese toward offers to consult on matters that will affect hundreds of pupils across Redbridge should be a cause for real concern.

“There also seems to be a blatant disregard for the need to be accountable in the public arena.

“It is an ongoing matter of curiosity as to why the diocese has left its seat at the education scrutiny committee empty since 2011.”

He added that the committee will be writing to the diocese, headteachers, governors and the Catholic Education Service about the lack of consultation across Redbridge.

Councillor for Wanstead Village, Paul Donovan, said everyone at the scrutiny meeting was “struck by the abrasive tone” of the statement.

“There seems to be a problem in terms of how the diocese see the concept of consultation,” he said.

“Rather than enter into an open dialogue with all stakeholders affected, then move forward, it is as if the decision has already been made and we are really talking about implementation.

“This is unfair to pupils, parents, teachers, heads and governors. It must be hoped that the diocese thinks again and really start to listen to the very real concerns being raised.”

One grandparent whose child attends a school earmarked for academisation expressed concern about the lack of consultation and transparency.

“There has been no obvious evidence produced as to why this (academisation) process is taking place,” she said.

“We have major concerns about how the staff will be treated.”

Councillor Martin Sachs said the process is a “one-way street” and schools can be “taken in but not out”.

Cllr Anne Sachs accused the Diocese of “squalid behaviour.” and added: “We have a statutory duty to protect public money – they are refusing to engage.”

Colin Stewart, director of education at Redbridge Council, questioned whether the Diocese had the capacity to support the academies.

He also highlighted how there was a danger that academies can end up taking from the schools budget if they lack capacity for other functions.

Greg Eglin, former chair of the governors at Our Lady of Lourdes Primary School, added: “I am opposed to what is being done by Brentwood Diocese.

“I believe Catholic schools should be part of the local education authority set up.”

The committee also received written letters from parents which highlighted the lack of consultation that had taken place.

Another parent also said they wanted more information about the benefits of joining an academy as they couldn’t see any evidence of it.