Green Group response to Hackney’s consultation on the amalgamation/closure of six Hackney primary schools

Hackney has lost of the equivalent of 20 classrooms of children since 2014. We recognise the context and influences which have led to this loss, including Brexit, a falling birth rate, the opening of free schools and the increased cost of living in Hackney. 

The council is now consulting on the merger / closure of six primary schools: Colvestone Primary, Baden Powell Primary, De Beauvoir Primary, Nightingale Primary, Princess May Primary, Randal Cremer Primary. The council outlines the reasons for this approach in the consultation documents on Hackney Citizen Space. This phase of the consultation is open until 16 July 2023.

Hackney’s Green Councillors, Zoë Garbett and Alastair Binnie-Lubbock have been listening to parents, staff and governors, scrutinising the council’s proposals and questioning the Mayor and Cabinet on their proposals. 

We recognise that this is a really difficult time for families, parents and carers, staff and the wider community to whom these schools are incredibly important. 

We would like to note that we support Hackney Cabinet’s request for the Government to give councils greater powers to manage school places in free schools and academies in order to pool place-planning resources. 

The points the Green Group have been raising are set out here:

Consultation process 

  • The consultation provides restricted options for people to comment on in terms of the schools impacted and approach taken. 
  • The concept of ‘merger’ is undermined by parents being able to choose which school their child will attend, therefore are the options proposed an accurate reflection of what is likely to happen?
  • The pre-consultation approach (where parents were informed in March of the potential closures) is catastrophic for the schools involved as staff & families have already started leaving feeling like it is a ‘done deal’. It feels like there has been limited thought around how to mitigate this effect.
  • The consultation does not make it clear why these schools have been chosen in the configuration they have proposed.
  • There has been little confirmation or assurance of the weight that the consultation holds in the final decision making (i.e. against other factors like debt). 
  • The consultation is framed solely in terms of finance rather than improving pupil experience and attainment. The council has not adequately painted a picture of the up sides for students and parents of these measures. 
  • The consultation is happening over a long period of time which has created difficulty, particularly for the children at the school where their friends are leaving. 

Accuracy of information 

  • Councillor Garbett has raised concerns about the information presented to Cabinet in May 2023 which led to the agreement to go out to consultation 
    • For example, estimating that 120 children will move from Colvestone to Princess May therefore, presenting this merger as a positive, viable option. In reality, from data collected by parents at Colvestone Primary 87% of parents have said that they will not send their children to Princess May - therefore, undermining the proposal and not safeguarding from further closures. 
    • Roll issues in council schools and faith schools not being compared using the same data (‘offers’ used for council schools and ‘applications’ faith school applications) which provides a misleading picture with regards to numbers. 
  • Previous inaccurate modelling led to Nightingale school being built without actual need, the build was funded by the construction of luxury flats and left its old school building to become an academy. 

We recognise that decisions regarding faith schools are outside of the council’s responsibility, it is good to hear that conversations are taking place with faith school leaders. 

Further points 

  • The council have stated that all avenues have been exhausted to keep the schools open, even though some of the schools have stated that they could be making further spend reduction e.g. across external contracts.
  • Debts will have to be written off by the council in schools with historic deficits instead of allowing them the opportunity to pay them down where the trend has been reversed, in addition to the large costs of mothballing and maintaining the schools.
  • We implore the council to look to the medium-long term (as their strategies require) and not the short-medium term, including transparent modelling for the consideration of regeneration in the nearby areas to the implicated schools. 
  • Concerns about the loss of one-form entry schools particularly concerning children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) whose parents report they have thrived in a smaller setting. Schools with larger numbers of children with SEND are the ones impacted by these measures.
  • It is important to note that once closed, buildings which were maintained schools cannot be reopened as council-maintained schools due to the free school presumption.

We will continue to listen to parents and carers, staff, governors and the wider community. We will ensure that the consultation responses are properly considered and scrutinise every step of this process. 

All the consultation documents can be viewed on Hackney Citizen Space, and you can give your own views by following the link below.