We are rightly proud of our Lambeth schools. Ofsted’s annual report states that, despite high levels of disadvantage, Lambeth has “nothing but good and outstanding secondary schools” whilst 90% of our primary schools are good or outstanding. This puts us in the top 10% of all boroughs nationally.
But we are far from complacent. We know that this high standard of education and quality school experience for Lambeth children comes through hard work and partnership and sharing of expertise. As a former chair of governors of a Lambeth primary school, I experienced first hand what it takes for a school to be outstanding. Everyone plays their part: the children; the whole school staff from premises officer and mealtime supervisors to teachers, teaching assistants and the head teacher; parents; governors; the local authority and the wider community. It is this working in partnership that enables us to raise standards and thereby support all our children to achieve their potential.
But this Conservative government seems determined to reject those partnerships, threatening the progress our schools have made. Last week, they announced a welcome, but only partial, climb down on their policy of forced academisation for all schools, a policy which we have completely opposed throughout. It is of course good news that they have abandoned their bizarre claim to be supporting school choice by forcing schools to become academies regardless of whether the school, parents and local community want it. But their initial determination to push it through, despite strong opposition from the Labour leadership in Westminster and councils, parents and schools up and down the country, shows their priorities are about putting ideology over the best interests of pupils.
The climb-down is only partial as well: it is clear that the Education Secretary wants every school to convert to academies and that the government will press ahead with legislation to force this policy via the backdoor. In particular, schools which are not academies will face pressure to convert if nearby schools have already done so, and they will put even more money into this change of structure, rather than into teaching or school improvements.
This focus of funding on academisation is even more galling at a time when the government has announced its plans to reduce funding for schools in Lambeth by nearly 20%. This is a staggering amount to take out of our schools and cannot but have a severe impact on how our schools operate, to the detriment of all who use them.
As an inner-London borough, Lambeth has key challenges around tackling poverty and language barriers for pupils whose first language isn’t English (over 150 languages are spoken in our schools). But this 20% planned cut in funding would mean cuts to the level of support for pupils for English as an additional language and cuts to early intervention and support for children from deprived backgrounds.
It could also dramatically impact the ability of schools in Lambeth to attract high quality teachers and school leaders and cause cuts in the number of teaching posts and teaching assistants.
These moves by the government together threaten the huge strides forward that have been made by schools in Lambeth in recent years: and that’s why we will continue to oppose them.
We have been working hard with other London boroughs to lobby government and are campaigning to stop these changes. We have submitted a motion to the next full council meeting, calling on the government to halt the academisation plans and to look again at the new Tory funding formula that will see Lambeth’s schools budget slashed at a time when it is critical we increase levels of investment. We are working closely with schools to submit a collective response to government. We also have a petition, which I would encourage everyone to sign here.
Please join with our campaign to protect the hard-won improvements to Lambeth schools. Say ‘No’ to a slash in our schools budget and say ‘No’ to forced academisation by the back door.
Councillor Claire Holland
Deputy Cabinet Member for Children and Schools