Tuesday 11 February 2014

The Fight Goes On To Save Sulivan Primary School.

Last night's special cabinet meeting
Last night, and rather predictably, the Conservative Councillors that form Hammersmith and Fulham's Borough Cabinet agreed again to close down Sulivan Primary School and hand the beautiful £20m site over to people behind the Fulham Boys School bid - some of whom key cabinet members coincidentally enjoy close associations with.

The Cabinet had been forced to meet and reconsider their actions after the Borough's Education and Children Services Select Committee overturned their decision in an unprecedented vote of no-confidence. So last night's meeting was more than a little tense for all those in attendance.

Under the Council's constitution, the leader of the council, is allowed to set the agenda and to choose who to allow to speak and who not to. Cllr. Nick Botterill (Con) decided on an approach that was reminiscent of this meeting.

There were four good deputations defending the school and one ill-advised and ill-informed deputation from New Kings School - which I am told New Kings undertook after a request from the Conservative Administration.

The absolute lack of questions from the cabinet to those that had taken their time to prepare thoughtful deputations was a further insight into the lack of interests any of them really had in finding a better way forward. Cllr. Botterill took the unusual step of banning the Borough's Opposition from asking any questions to the delegations - what he was afraid of, we can only guess?

Cllr. Caroline Needham (Lab) the Opposition's Shadow Cabinet Member for Education and Children's Services was the only person called forward from that committee to explain why Labour and independent co-opted members of the committee had rejected the Conservative Administration's plan. Nick Botterill gave a blunt "No!" when it was suggested that the committee might benefit having other committee members available to question too. Caroline gave a excellent performance - one deserving of the standing ovation she received.

Next, Cllr. Botterill wheeled out what he and his colleagues all clearly thought would be their pièce de résistance in persuading the viewing audience that Caroline Needham's position wasn't as good as their plan to close the school. Step forward one Cllr. Mark Loveday (Con) - the Administration's man for secret property talks in Cannes - on the French Riviera. I'm not sure if Mark imagined he was auditioning for the part of an overly aggressive, misogynist hack lawyer in a daytime television drama but if he was, he gave a masterful performance. The audience were genuinely taken aback.

In short this was, as is nearly always the case with this Administration, a done deal. The fight goes on and the determination to Save Our Sulivan is as strong as ever.

I do want to put on record and reiterate what Caroline Needham said in her speech about how much admiration I and everyone associated with this campaign have for Headteacher Wendy Aldridge and her team at Sulivan Primary School. Wendy has demonstrated dignity, humility and strength of character throughout while enduring the Administration's humiliating, dishonest, underhand and hurtful attacks. Her first response after the Conservatives reaffirmed their intention to close down her school was to comfort the distraught teachers and parents - many of whom were shattered by this latest knockback and in tears. The last thing Wendy said to me last night before shooting off home was very similar to the first thing she said when I first met her at the start of this campaign: "I just want to get back to the school now and make sure all the children are okay. I need to ensure they feel some sense of normality. They and their education are my priority."

Successive governments have striven for decades to discover the magic ingredient to a school's success. The answer isn't too far away. Sulivan Primary School's SATS results place it as 233rd out of 16,884 primaries in England. Boris Johnson (Con), The Mayor of London awarded Sulivan Primary the Gold Club distinction “recognising good work for disadvantaged pupils”. If anyone's looking for magic ingredients look at the courageous, compassionate leadership of Wendy Aldridge and her team. If you could bottle it, you could sell it for a fortune. That's just one of several reasons why this closure needs to be stopped and why my Labour colleagues and I intend to do everything possible to do that in the coming months.

Here's the text of the deputation Rosie Wait the Chair of Governors at Sulivan Primary School had intended to say but was cut off and halted from reading out in full:

"I expect that this is the last time that I will be addressing the Cabinet. It is important that I explain why we disagree with what you hope to do and why this process has been so deeply flawed–from start to finish. At the beginning the outcome had always been pre-determined by the Cabinet.

I still find it hard to believe that there isn’t a part of each of you that isn’t ashamed of how this has been handled. And when I say each of you, I mean the officials, Cllr. Cooney (Con), Cllr Binmore (Con) and I mean you Cllr, Nick Botterill (Con) and Mr Christie and Mr Heggs.

As a consequence of this consultation I and many others are totally disillusioned with the Council and its undemocratic practices.  I have been stunned by your practice of making inaccurate statements on public record that the likes of us cannot correct, on public record. The unprecedented recommendations of the Education and Children’s Services Select Committee however give you a way out of this shameful process. So vote for those proposals and Save Sulivan Primary School…

Last Wednesday, the Select Committee was presented with new evidence; key factors presented that this local authority was meant to have taken into account. Unbelievably, the line agreed by officials and the two cabinet members was that we had not presented any new evidence. You all dismissed it as out of hand.

We have taken the opportunity to circulate that same report, highlighting all the new information so that there can be no misunderstanding and confusion. There is lots of new evidence as you will see. Your Administration’s immediate response demonstrated once again your intent to close Sulivan School. Despite the declarations we have heard and will hear tonight we all know why. Because you, Michael Gove MP the Secretary of State for Education and the Fulham Boys School have all agreed that you want and will have our site.

Consider how this might look to any genuinely independent review:

The 4th July last year was the first indication we had that things were afoot when Ian Heggs emailed Wendy Aldridge requesting a meeting. By the time we met Mr. Heggs on the 9th July, Wendy had already spoken with the Head at New Kings who told her that Mr Heggs had insisted he didn’t tell her what the meeting was about.

That was the meeting where Mr. Heggs told us “We’re going to close your school.” Seven days later, on 16 July 2013, the formal consultation began.

Fulham Boys School took an active part in the consultation putting huge resources into getting people to submit that they wanted the Fulham Boys School .

But there are many more reasons why the Fulham Boys School  bid is central to this situation tonight; your refusal to remove the 970 responses from the Fulham Boys School supporters which bear no relation to this consultation, well if you did so you would be left with less than 300 responses supporting the closure of Sulivan and that would clearly not suit your determination to close Sulivan.

Eighteen and a half months earlier on 31st January 2012, Greg Hands MP posted a picture on his blog which I think was actually taken in 2011. It features Mr. Hands standing next to the Rt Hon Michael Gove MP, the Secretary of State; Alex Wade of Fulham Boys School and his wife; two other founders and Councillor Helen Binmore.

In the accompanying article Greg says he “is calling on residents to get behind plans for a new Fulham Boys School.”

Twenty two months after that picture was taken Greg met with a school governor and representative on 20th November 2013. He stated and I quote “it had been extremely difficult to find sites for new schools within the Borough. I am aware that Fulham Boys School has looked at many sites over the last two years. I have personally tried to help Fulham Boys School  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.” 

Greg Hands also co-incidentally sent out during the consultation period, weekly updates to his electorate supporting the Fulham Boys School and sewing doubt in the minds of local residents as to the actual numbers on Sulivan’s School roll.

So, we know that there was powerful support for Fulham Boys School going to the Secretary of State in the highest levels of government; we know that Cllr. Helen Binmore was there from the start and we know that Greg Hands in his own words “personally had tried to help FBS to find a site controlled by local or central government.” And we know you found it difficult finding a site.

On 24th January, four days after the Borough's Cabinet voted to close Sulivan, Michael Gove's wrote "The current Sulivan site will be improved and used by the Fulham Boys School". He was unseemingly quick off the mark because he didn’t wait for the statutory call-in process to take its course.

This is compelling evidence that the future of Fulham Boys School has always been central and directly connected to this process.  This leaves the rather farcical situation, where you the Council asserts Fulham Boys School is nothing to do with the present issue; that no decision on Fulham Boys School has been taken; and yet the Minister of State has announced that Fulham Boys School will improve and take over the site.


Here’s a better question: Exactly when from the time Fulham Boys School was first mooted in late 2011 early 2012 to when Ian Heggs first wrote to Wendy Aldridge on 4th July 2013 did all these important people settle on Sulivan Primary School for the Fulham Boys School site?

The conclusion any reasonable onlooker reaches on consideration of all of this is you all decided to close our school long before the beginning of the statutory processes and that’s why every shoddy aspect of this has been so determinedly focused on doing that...
  • The early briefings to the head at New Kings;
  • agreement to allow Fulham Boys School’s involvement in the Sulivan consultation;
  • refusing to take evidence into account that didn’t suit your outcome;
  • and using random unsuitable evidence from around the world that you imagined did.
The consultation was fixed!

And after the call-in you even tried to fix the select committee by ONLY asking Conservative members if they could attend, you did not even ask the Deputy Chair. You actually forbade officials from contacting independent co-opted and opposition select committee members to see if they could attend and you booked the first ever select committee to meet at 10.00am in the morning – in the hope that only your people would attend and you would have fixed the vote.

You tried to dismiss our 14 page document as containing nothing new despite it containing rafts of new information such as detailed analysis from Mayor Boris Johnson’s School’s Atlas that demonstrates how the polling districts immediately surrounding Sulivan are predicting between 21-30% increases in primary school age population. And you have provided no detailed financial response to the analysis that takes your financial case apart… I refer to your Revenue savings model which does not even refer to which year the identified savings will be realised.

Despite constant assurances to our teachers that they will all have jobs you propose:
  • Cutting the combined teaching budget of £1.3m by £403,563
  • Cutting the combined teaching support staff budget of £612k by £168k
  • Cutting the Administration staff combined budget of £89k by £61k
So where does this all fit in with your claims to re-invest the savings into additional specialist teaching staff and new interventions?

The combined building maintenance budget is going to see a massive increase from £127k to £264k - what happened to your claim that there would be economies of scale by combining both schools on the same site?

Throughout this process there has been no reference to redundancy costs.  However, we see a combined increase in agency staff from £114k to £178k – are you expecting trouble?

At last week’s Council meeting we had to sit through Cllr. Donald Johnson’s (Con) lecture on how Council business is run very similarly to business.  Has he ever worked in the private sector?  If he had he would know there is no sense drawing comparison – he would know there would be some form of a triggering mechanism which would stop the Council from giving the Sulivan site which is conservatively valued at £20mill to the untried Fulham Boys School, a private company on a 125 year lease, with a peppercorn rental.

I could go on and highlight further concerns.  The figures as shown in Appendix J of the Council’s latest report supporting the closure of Sulivan are so unprofessional and so lacking in supporting documentation that it is hard to understand how the Council has repeatedly claimed that these savings, will be realised and as consequence are pivotal to the closure of Sulivan.

I speak as someone who has years of experience managing large moves and changes projects in the City.  I am staggered by the Council’s predictions that all the changes and the rebuilding can be achieved in one year.  I would suggest that this will take conservatively two years and as a consequence would have massive cost implications. 

Why is the 1st of August such a critical date– can you please explain this to us?

As I have stated earlier, this consultation is full of incompetence and conjecture.  You don’t have to continue in this direction.

You can find an alternative site for Fulham Boys School and the Borough can benefit from both schools -you can do the right thing and stop this now.

I urge you to listen to the Select Committee and take their advice and instruct your officials to implement their recommendations with immediate effect.

Right before the consultation started its formal process, I asked Nick Botterill to do the right thing, postpone the consultation and get all the relevant education people around the table to plan collectively the education provision in the south of the borough.  He refused.  He asked me to accept his word that he would make sure that the public consultation was a fair process with the opportunity for everyone to put forward their requirements and to debate them openly...

I suggest to Nick Botterill that he show us all here tonight that his word is worth having.

Thank you."
Rosie Wait
Chair of Governors
Sulivan Primary School: 233rd best SATS in England measured out of 16,884 primaries. Winner of The Mayor of London's Gold Club awarded for “recognising good work for disadvantaged pupils”.

1 comment:

L said...

I'm a Sulivan parent and I attended this meeting and although the outcome was predictable, it was still appalling to witness the cold, ruthless venality of our elected 'leaders'. I want to thank you for all the support you've given the Save Sulivan campaign and to let you know that we won't forget come election day.