Swiss Cottage School reveals proposal to break away from council control to be run as an academy
Anti-academies campaigners urge governors to stay in 'Camden's family of schools'
12 January, 2017 — By Richard Osley
Swiss Cottage School
A SCHOOL is set to test opinion with a proposal to become the first in Camden to break away from council control to be run as an academy, it was revealed last night (Wednesday).
Staff at Swiss Cottage School in Avenue Road, Swiss Cottage, were being briefed on the plans yesterday, immediately sparking alarm bells among union members and anti-academies protesters. Parents will be give more information today.
Approached by the New Journal last night, school principal Vijita Patel pledged a full consultation survey on the potential switch.
She said: “We are full. We have no more space to expand in this building but we want to able to increase provision.”
The school – rated “outstanding” by Ofsted – caters for children with special needs from age two to 19. It began exploring potential advantages of academies, said Ms Patel, when the government briefly suggested all schools would be forced to become one – a policy which has now been dropped.
Ms Patel said the school would always maintain a close relationship with the Town Hall, due to its nature of catering for children with specialist needs. She said: “Camden will still place children here and we will still take them, we want to continue that relationship. You have to look at it in a special needs context and what we provide. We will be open and transparent throughout the process and want to hear from all stakeholders.”
The school is looking at whether becoming an academy could enable it to set up a Multi Academy Trust (MAT) with “new provision” at other sites. Ms Patel said there would be no financial risk to the school if it went ahead.
Camden has become famous in education circles for the way its schools have resisted pressure to become academies, schools operating beyond the management of a democratically elected local authority.
Only two academy schools are open here, and both the UCL Academy and King’s Cross Academy are new-builds. Abacus and St Luke’s primary schools operate as free schools. When Haverstock School looked at the idea of converting, the proposal was abandoned following protests from staff and parents, and no school has so far broken away.
Gerald Clark, the divisional secretary at Camden NUT, said: “At the moment, Swiss Cottage School is accountable to the community because they have a governing body with representatives from the community. If they were to form a trust with a view to becoming a Multi-Academy Trust then they would lose this accountability and could sever their links to the Camden family of schools. The current teaching staff and leadership of each school would no longer be employed by the governing body, but by the MAT who could then change any policies of the school at any time. This creates an uncertain future for the staff, the school’s relationship with Camden and thus for the families it serves.”
He added: “There is no longer any financial incentive for schools to become academies. The government has withdrawn plans to force schools to become academies and Camden is one of the highest-performing authorities in the country. Given these facts we can’t see why Swiss Cottage School would choose to pursue this.”
Hugo Pierre, from Unison, added: “An unaccountable and unelected Trust will be responsible for all the problems the school faces on leaving Camden’s family of schools. In a harsh funding climate this would almost certainly lead to job losses and a loss of quality education the school provides. Any guarantees now of a good working relationship will be tested to breaking point as opposed to the good collaboration there is now.”
A Camden Council press official said: “We will be responding to Swiss Cottage School’s consultation on its academy conversion proposals. We welcome that the school intends to remain an active member of Camden Learning, our not-for-profit school improvement company which seeks to raise standards through the collective endeavour of the council and Camden schools of every type.”