Parents launch legal action to stop Catholic school academy plan

Parents launch legal action to stop Catholic school academy plan

Parents at a Catholic primary school have launched legal action in an attempt to halt academisation after the local bishop said he wanted all Catholic schools in the diocese to convert and join a multi-academy trust (Mat).

Our Lady of Lourdes (OLOL) primary in Wanstead, east London, is due to become an academy in September as part of the first wave of Catholic schools in the diocese of Brentwood to academise. A second group are due to follow in September 2020.

Campaigners say about 70 Catholic schools in the diocese, which covers Essex and the London boroughs of Redbridge, Waltham Forest, Newham, Havering, and Barking and Dagenham are affected by the bishop’s policy.

Three OLOL parents have decided to challenge the decision made by their school’s governing body to convert and join the Good Shepherd Mat, claiming the consultation process was “unlawful”, that information was not shared with parents and their views were not taken into account. They also say the governing body had no choice in the matter, as the decision to convert had already been made.

Solicitors acting for the parent have sent a pre-action protocol letter to the governing body’s lawyers, informing them of their intention to seek a judicial review to halt the academisation process to enable “a meaningful and lawful consultation”.

Vicky Taylor, a former teacher who has two sons at the school, said: “Parents have only ever wanted a fair, open and meaningful consultation. Everybody supports the school. We want the opportunity for everything to be shared fairly and our views heard.” Not all parents at the school oppose academisation.

Taylor is due to take part in an education rally at Redbridge town hall in Ilford on Wednesday evening, which will raise concerns about school funding cuts in the borough, as well as about academisation.

The campaign is one of a number taking place across England, including Waltham Holy Cross primary in Essex, which recently received a temporary reprieve to enable further building work, and Peacehaven community school in East Sussex, where parents and teachers are resisting academisation.

The original Catholic academies plan in Brentwood was outlined in a letter from the Right Rev Alan Williams, the bishop of Brentwood, in which he declared he wanted to develop deanery-based Catholic Mats. It was posted on the school website and read out at mass across the diocese on 9 September last year.

A position statement posted later on the diocese website said: “Our emphasis on local deanery-based Catholic Mats is borne out of our belief that this provides the best long-term sustainable platform for our schools to work together and to continue to thrive.”

It acknowledges the need to consult both staff and the school community. “We are committed to ensuring that full and accurate information is provided to staff and parents and that this acknowledges the range of opinions and research carried out about academies, education, Catholic Mats and the future of our schools.”

A spokeswoman for the diocese of Brentwood said it was unable to comment on the legal action. She said a number of schools were already part of Mats and 10 more schools were becoming academies in September.

In a statement released at the end of last year, Robert Simpson, the director of education for the diocese, said: “All schools in the diocese of Brentwood are under the authority of the bishop, and it’s his informed decision to move forward with these plans, thus moving the diocese in line with the prevailing national trend towards academisation.”

A statement from the parents said they had tried to encourage a meaningful consultation. “The governing body has in return responded only with empty promises and extended periods of silence and has even publicly stated that they were not given any choice but to ratify the will of the diocese.” The OLOL governing body and the diocese were both approached for comment.

The National Education Union (NEU), which is due to take part in the Redbridge rally, said: “Currently Catholic schools are part of the local community of schools but retain their distinct ethos and values. The NEU cannot see what is to be gained forcing schools to comply with the bishop’s will that all schools will, eventually, join a Mat.”