Monday 27 January 2014

Unprecedented: Borough Select Committee Calls In Conservatives' Decision To Close Award Winning Sulivan Primary School.

Last Monday’s decision by the Borough’s Conservative Cabinet to close the award winning Sulivan Primary School has been suspended after an unprecedented “call-in” issued on Friday by a majority on the Borough’s Education and Children’s Services Select Committee.

All four independent co-opted voting members of the Select Committee joined with three Labour Opposition councillors to produce a majority of one. The controversial closure will now be reviewed at an emergency meeting.

There is much that needs to be considered about the curious goings on behind all of this. Here's just two of the most important questions:
  1. Why close a primary school whose latest SATs results place it as 233rd out of 16,884 primaries in England and put it firmly into the top 2% of schools in the country?
  2. Exactly what does this closure have to do with the proposed Fulham Boys School (FBS)?
On Monday, Cabinet Members Cllr. Helen Binmore (Con), Cllr. Georgie Cooney (Con) and Cllr. Nicholas Botterill (Con) all claimed the answer to that last question is absolutely nothing. But here’s what we know:
  • Sulivan Primary School has been set aside by the Conservative Administration as the site for the FBS.
  • There was a well organised campaign during the statutory consultation on the closure of Sulivan Primary School to encourage people to write in and state their support for FBS.
  • Conservative councillors agreed to count around 950 of those FBS statutory consultation responses amongst those they claimed were backing Sulivan’s closure in the report that was presented to the Borough's cabinet.
  • Sulivan is the preferred site of those behind the FBS bid. On 24th November 2013, a council official wrote an email which stated: “I spoke to Alex Wade, the founder of the Fulham Boys’ School last week… He also confirmed that, should the proposals go ahead, he did not see your alternative plan as workable and that the clear preference of the Fulham Boys’ School governors and Head teacher would be for a new secondary school on the larger and more suitable Sulivan site.”
  • Conservative councillors have taken legal advice: one on whether or not to publically declare a "friendship"; and two on whether to declare a “number of people they know” behind the FBS bid. They have been advised "this declaration is not a declaration of interests required under the code" and they have "no interest to declare". While nobody is suggesting anything improper has happened, we do now need to see a full list of all dates that elected representatives met with people behind FBS and discussed or referred to the bid or potential sites.
  • Minutes from a meeting on 20th November 2013 with Greg Hands MP for Chelsea and Fulham, allege other excellent schools were also considered for closure so FBS could take their sites. The minutes state: “Greg commented that it was extremely difficult to find sites for new schools within the Borough. Greg was aware that FBS has looked at many sites over the last two years. Greg personally had tried to help FBS to find a site controlled by local or central government including the MOD site in Rylston Road, All Saints vicarage, All Saints School and The Moat School – none of which has proved suitable for FBS.”
It appears that the FBS proposals have absolutely everything to do with the proposed closure of Sulivan Primary School.

It is also apparent that the pupils, teachers, parents and governors of other Borough schools could have faced the same calamity as those currently befalling Sulivan with every likelihood that the Conservative Administration would have put up other similarly spurious reasons for closing them.

The seven Select Committee members who called in this decision appear to have done the Borough a very big favour. This is the first time any Select Committee has ever called in a cabinet decision. I know it won't have been done lightly. This is a summary of the reasons they gave:
  • The Cabinet has not properly considered the school’s excellent performance.
  • The Council have miscalculated the detrimental effect the closure will have on the children’s education.
  • The Council effectively blocked attempts to increase the school’s numbers.
  • The Council has misled the public during the consultation on the schools results, popularity and the reasons for its closure.
  • The Cabinet has given undue consideration to the views, requirements and preferences of the founders of the Fulham Boys School.
It would be unwise for the Conservative Administration to play down this call-in or try to bulldoze the process through. It would also be a huge concern and raise questions about their credibility if the six Conservative councillors on the Education and Children's Services Select Committee (one of whom is the Conservatives' newly selected prospective parliamentary candidate for Hammersmith) failed to properly take up their responsibilities to look into and act on these matters.

If you'd like to write to any councillors on the committee please follow these links:

There's no good reason to mess with these
children's education
Conservative Select Committee members
Cllr. Donald Johnson, (Con) the committee chair, Cllr Tom Crofts (Con) , Cllr Charlie Dewhirst (Con), Cllr Belinda Donovan (Con), Cllr Harry Phibbs (Con), Cllr. Matt Thorley (Con)
Labour's Select Committee members
Cllr Caroline Needham (Lab) the committee vice-chair, Cllr Elaine Chumnery (Lab) and Cllr Mercy Umeh (Lab).
I was one of the people behind bringing the Hammersmith Academy to the Borough and I have been very impressed by the excellent West London Free School in Hammersmith. I think it is important to provide an additional, and high performing, secondary school in the south of the Borough but I do not believe this is any way to go about it.
It is highly questionable that anyone should think turfing very young children out of the wonderful Sulivan Primary School, or any other high performing local school, is reasonable or sets a good moral example for young people of what is a decent way to behave.

This Wednesday is the date of the next Full Council Meeting. It's a public meeting which you can attend and view the papers for it here.  Sulivan's parents, teachers and governors have submitted questions to Conservative cabinet members which you can read from page 475, 476, 477 and 478. My Labour Opposition colleagues and I are calling for a vote on the school and you can read what we're proposing on page 536.

It is ironic that the Conservatives', now suspended, decision to close Sulivan, was made almost a month to the day after the school received a letter of recognition by the Government's Minister of State for Schools. On 17th December he congratulated Sulivan Primary School on the “excellent performance of your pupils, particularly your disadvantaged pupils”. The Mayor of London also awarded Sulivan Primary School the Gold Club distinction, “recognising good work for disadvantaged pupils”. Those awards alone should have given food for thought. Now the Conservative cabinet have an opportunity to revisit their decision and do the right thing - which is keeping Sulivan Primary School open.

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