HandsOffWHX – a letter from a parent to the Secretary of State

This letter from Colin Potter, a Waltham Holy Cross parent, was sent to Damian Hinds, the Secretary of State for Education.

The letter covers some of the inconsistencies in the process so far and asks the Secretary of State to reverse the decision to force Waltham Holy Cross to become an academy.

1st August 2018

Dear Damian Hinds,

I am writing to you in your capacity as Secretary of State For Education on behalf of parents and carers of children at Waltham Holy Cross Primary School in Waltham Abbey, Essex. This follows from the decision to force the school into Academy status as a result of the OFSTED inspection on 12th December 2017 which deemed the school to be ‘inadequate’. Many parents are very angry about this course of action and wish you to reconsider that decision since it was based on an unfair and premature judgement. The school appealed against the OFSTED conclusions on the basis of inadequate evidence and poor judgements but was unsuccessful. Consequently, the final report was not issued until 2nd March 2018.

Waltham Holy Cross School was formed as a new Primary in September 2015 when the Infants School (consistently judged as ‘good’ by OFSTED) increased its age range to accommodate KS2 pupils from the Junior School (judged as ‘inadequate’ and ‘requires improvement’ in the 2 previous inspections). This amalgamation under the joint leadership of an executive headteacher and the Infant School headteacher (both part-time) clearly needed time to establish itself. The current headteacher, Erica Barnett, was then appointed in January 2017 to provide a new way forward.

OFSTED followed their own guidelines to carry out an inspection of a new school within the 3rd year of it opening. However, it did not follow the accepted guidance of allowing a new headteacher a period of at least 2 years to bring about school improvement. Their judgement was largely based on the only hard data available at the time, i.e. KS2 SATS results up to 2017. This only allowed the new headteacher a mere 6 months from her appointment in January 2017 until the KS2 SATS tests in June 2017 to effect any positive change in these results. Had OFSTED waited until July 2018 they would have had more meaningful data in the form of 2018 KS2 SATS results. These show a very different picture – one of a much improved school with results closely matching the national average. Obviously OFSTED judgements are based on a variety of factors but it would be difficult to imagine them still making such a negative judgement had they inspected at this later date. Moreover these results vindicate parents’ views that this is a ‘good’ school and reinforce the positive parental feedback noted in the 2017 OFSTED report. In this situation the school would not have been referred to the Secretary of State for a decision to force it to change its status against the wishes of parents, staff and Governors. Parents believe this decision based upon unfair and premature evidence needs to be challenged. We have only been able to do this once the KS2 SATS results became available and supported what we intuitively felt all along.

Unfortunately this unfairness has led to Waltham Holy Cross parents becoming increasingly vociferous and critical of the role of OFSTED and Academy Trusts. The article ‘How Parents and Teachers Are Frozen Out of Our Schools’ in The Guardian newspaper (p1-2 of the Journal) on 30th July illustrates how our school has become a wider national issue with the possibility of escalating further. We urge you to reverse this decision to force Academy status on a school which is now flourishing and in which the headteacher has wonderful support from parents. The school now needs a period of stability without the further upheavel of an extremely unpopular and unnecessary reorganisation. Parents should not feel the need to protest to get their voices heard. We trust common sense will prevail.

Yours faithfully,

Colin Potter