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Parents vs. the system: which side is Labour on?

12 July 2013

5:45 PM

12 July 2013

5:45 PM

Should Labour support private schools joining the state sector? Yes, is probably your immediate response but in reality, Labour’s position is unfathomable. A case in point is the battle for The King’s School, which I’ve written about in this week’s Spectator. The King’s School is due to move into the state sector this September and merge with the local Priory Primary School to create the all-new King’s Priory Academy.

North Tyneside, where both schools reside, is one of the poorest boroughs in the country. Opening up an excellent fee-paying school to parents who (like mine) can’t afford a £10,000 per-year education should be welcomed by all. But Labour, locally and nationally, have failed to back the merger.

When I visited Tynemouth, I was struck by the posters in shop windows voicing support for the merger. 95 per cent of parents at the Priory primary and 80 per cent of those at King’s voted in support of the merger. Judging by the comments underneath the article, Michael Gove has done the right thing to approve the new academy. One parent, heatherpea, says:

‘My eldest daughter is in reception at Priory, and the school is an outstanding success thanks to the leadership and dedication of it’s teachers – in other words, despite the LA [local authority]…it’s just a pitty that the council have been so cynical and manipulative in their objections, which have been timed in a number of instances to cause maximum distress and anxiety to parents.’

Amanda Gadema has more to say on why the Priory school will benefit from academy status:

‘The Priory school has too long been under funded by the LA, with toilets still flooding (only on Monday did this happen again) leaving the school carpets outside the toilets and classrooms smelling of urine, the have a faulty wiring system for the lights, which can go off at anytime (Tuesday) and the temporary portacabins that were placed in the key stage 1 yard for reception students some 2 decades ago……this is just a small snippet of what the Priory children and teachers have to put up with on a weekly, monthly and yearly basis. All due respect to Miss Melbourne and her outstanding group of teachers, which make Priory Primary the outstanding school it is today.’

That is what the government’s education revolution is really about: giving teachers, not local authorities, power to decide what happens in schools. But Labour continue to flip-flop on whether they support the creation of such academies. The shadow education secretary Stephen Twigg has said in the past he does not support academies in areas with place allocation issues, but claims to to be supportive of the academies principle.

As the response from @EducationLabour suggests, Labour aren’t very happy about how they have been portrayed in this article — particularly because a quote from Twigg’s on academies was not included. When I initially put the King’s proposition to his spokesman this week, this is the statement I received back:

‘Labour supports the principle of private schools coming into the state sector – this can help spread opportunity and help deliver great education to more children in the state sector. We also strongly support academies, and think any new academy should work in collaboration with other local schools to raise standards across the board.’

As this  adds to the confusion — and doesn’t state if they support the King’s merger or not — it was not included in the article. Following the rubber-stamping of the merger, I have asked this afternoon whether Labour has changed its position the Kings Priory Academy. A Labour spokesman told me their position remains but:

‘We support private schools coming in to the state sector. We are agnostic about this particular case, as we don’t have all the details of the case.We certainly think it shouldn’t be blocked on ideological grounds.’

For North Tyneside Council — who appear unhappy at the idea of losing the primary school from their empire — the battle is far from over. The Journal reports that following the Education Secretary’s decision to sign off the merger, the ‘disappointed’ council has decided to stage a special meeting to ‘ensure all members can consider the consequences of this decision for our children and schools. Following this, the authority will decide on its next steps.’

The sleepy seaside town of Tynemouth is becoming the latest battleground for this government’s education policy. It’s the parents vs. the establishment, fighting for who controls their children’s’ education. Hold on, and grab some popcorn — the battle for the King’s Priory Academy is not quite over.

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