Wednesday, 10 December 2014

My letter to Lewisham concerning their intention to oust Sedgehill school's governing body and head.

Most of the planet will not be aware but there is a growing battle raging around the future of a south London school.  Sedgehill is a large (~1400) community school who achieve amazing results from a cohort which includes kids coming in with below-target achievement out of primary school.  Their sixth form is going from strength to strength.  And crucially they provide Education with a capital E: they produce animated, engaged, confident aspirational citizens who are allowed to develop whichever strength they happened to be born with - even if it isn't always a strength which leads to 5 A*-C (including English and Maths).

In summer 2014 the school's GCSE results dropped considerably, but the drop was the same or less bad than a huge proportion of all schools in Britain, on account of a dramatic change in the style and content of the GCSE papers.  Read this link to get the full story on what the local authority (Lewisham) has decided to do about it, and to form your own view on whether the LA just wants to make a change at Sedgehill and is using this dip in results as an excuse to abuse the powers they have:

In summary, they are using a niche power reserved for a school in collapse (ejecting the governing body and headteacher; imposing an Interim Executive Board; and converting to an academy under Bethnal Green's sponsor academy - all this against the overt will of the GB, the parents and the children and teachers) If you like Twitter search on the #Savesedgehill hashtag to get more context.

I'd simply like to share a letter I just emailed to Frankie Sulke's team (head of Education at Lewisham), after my specific qus were unsatisfactorily replied to with a copy+paste of yesterday's statement from Lewisham (

"Thanks for your response, but I would prefer a rather more personalised response.  Your statement does cover some of my questions, but the following three remain unclear to me.
1. What the appeals process is. I have now learned that the imposition of the IEB was only possible after you issued a ‘warning notice’.  And that the warning notice can only legitimately be issued under certain very specific circumstances. I would like to know what the appeal process is against that specific decision to issue a warning notice, as I fear it has been issued in error/without a defensible evidenced basis.

2. Why you are going beyond the existing framework of ofsted inspections/actions.  In your statement you strangely imply that you know what Ofsted is currently thinking about Sedgehill, and what it might conclude if it visited again. Assuming Ofsted is independent, all you and I can possibly know right now is what was written in the Autumn 2013 report. The parents and governers both think the school is on a safe sustainable trajectory to lasting success. The imposition of an IEB will radically destabilise the whole fabric of the school.  I believe you should back out of this process and leave it to Ofsted and the governing body, but provide the excellent support that your education department is equipped to provide. Furthermore an IEB, by its very definition, is reserved for a collapsing school, where a radical change would be welcomed by the parents and children. Look closely into Sedgehill and you will see that not one of these groups thinks Sedgehill is anything other than a growing success story that simply has not yet come to fruition.  Look at the Ofsted ‘Parent View’ and tell me that it is not abnormally positive compared to even some star schools. 

3. Why you think the extreme disruption this will inevitably cause will achieve better outcomes for the children. Please answer this question.  I foresee guaranteed downside if an IEB and new head are imposed against the will of the parents, governors, teachers and children. In exchange for this guaranteed downside I have no evidence to believe that an IEB and new head will deliver an upside over and above what the current team is already on track to deliver, sustainably. On the other hand, if you leave the current team in place but support it meaningfully rather than combat it, you will get the outcome that you want (improvement in GCSE results and higher uptake)but without probably years of trauma and disruption that will in my opinion lower the achievement of children who have to live through the transition.

I fundamentally believe that whilst you have the best intentions at heart, the solution you are proposing does not stand up to logical scrutiny, has no democratic mandate as it is unsupported by all groups, and will definitely cause far more problems for yourselves than it may solve.

I offer you a challenge.  Come back in September 2015 after this year’s results.  Look at the projections for the cohorts lined up behind them.  Look at the next Ofsted report.  And go from there.  Basically wait a bit longer.  If you are right and the current team fails to deliver on their projections, you will find you have the support you need.  If you are wrong then you can safely disengage and let Sedgehill continue to grow in success.  What is there to lose?
I ask you – why would I be saying all this, as a parent of a year 7 pupil, when I obviously want the absolute best for him?  Unless you also have children at Sedgehill, how can you think your view should override those held by parents?  Parents pay the taxes and give the mandate to Ofsted and the elected local authority to act on our behalf.  If you are acting against all of our wishes then something fundamental has broken down and ultimately will not prevail.
Tom Mann

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