John Roan protesters
Protesters marched from the school to Blackheath Royal Standard earlier today

Greenwich Council’s cabinet is poised to rubber-stamp plans to turn John Roan School into an academy at its meeting next week.

The council is compelled to assist the process by law, and next Wednesday’s decision will allow officers to make arrangements for the switch to happen on 1 February. The school, in Blackheath, is due to be taken over by the Poplar-based University Schools Trust (UST), which also runs the Greenwich Trust School in Charlton.

Teachers at the school held a one-day strike today in protest at the plans, their second walkout of the term. Protesters marched from the school to the Royal Standard, with a rally due to take place in General Gordon Square in Woolwich later in the morning.

Over 300 people have signed a letter to the chair of John Roan’s governors asking for the plans to be halted, citing concerns about UST’s financial viability.

But more than 100 parents have signed another letter backing the school’s plans, calling industrial action “disruptive” and “destabilising”.

Education Secretary Damian Hinds ordered that John Roan be converted to an academy this summer after Ofsted judged the school to be “inadequate”, selecting UST as the chain to run it.

Last week, Greenwich councillors agreed a motion pledging to “resist further academisation”. (watch here)

However, the papers presented to the cabinet say: “Notwithstanding the clear policy of Full Council agreed on 31 October 2018 to resist further academisation, the council is required, by law, to take reasonable steps to facilitate the academy conversion process.”

Council leader Danny Thorpe said earlier this week that UST was probably “not the council’s first choice” of provider, but said his administration was doing what it could to resist further academies popping up elsewhere in the borough.

Trust claims

The academisation process includes transferring staff to UST as well as leasing the school’s Westcombe Park Road site – which is owned by Greenwich Council – at a peppercorn rent.

The National Education Union claims that UST wants to use “asset-rich” John Roan to shore up its own financial position, and that it has no confidence in UST chief executive Grahame Price or co-founder Dr Richard Marshall because they have been heads of schools that have closed.

Price was the former head of Wilmington Enterprise College near Dartford, which was placed in special measures before becoming an academy, while Marshall ran the former Greenwich University Technical College, which has since become the Greenwich Trust School after struggling to attract students.

As well as the Greenwich Trust School, UST runs two St Paul’s Way Trust School and St Paul’s Way Foundation, both in Mile End. NEU also points to high staff turnover at St Paul’s Way Trust School as another worry.

UST did not respond to a request from 853 for comment.

Uncertainty surrounding school

John Roan School
The school has been hit by industrial strife

At a Greenwich Council Q&A session on Monday night, one mother of a pupil at the school spoke about the uncertainty surrounding her daughter’s education.

She said: “We would be lying to ourselves if we said the school was doing fantastically well. Something had to change – I don’t believe in academisation but I don’t think parents have had enough support in this process.

“We get fed information from the school and from John Roan Resists. I am part of the parents who signed the letter [against industrial action]. There’s a lot of rumours going round and we actually want to know what is going on.

“In 2018 my daughter has missed four days of school through strike action. I know there is a bigger picture but that is my child – if I took her out for four days they would be on my back.”

John Roan School can date its history back to 1677, when the Mr Roan’s Charity school was set up after a bequest from an aide to King Charles I. The aide was jailed in the English Civil War and was refused when he asked his brother for help. In response, John Roan cut his brother out of his will and left money to set up a school for the “town-born children of Greenwich”.

“My will and mind is that the said poor children shall wear on their upper garment the cognisance or crest of me, John Roan,” he said. A girls’ school followed in the early 19th century.

The boys’ and girls’ schools were merged into the current John Roan School in 1980.

The John Roan Foundation Trust still exists and provides the school with extra resources. It owns the freehold to the school’s Maze Hill site and its playing field at Kidbrooke Park Road, which UST will also have to negotiate access to.

Additional reporting by Tom Bull, Local Democracy Reporter. Story amended slightly on Thursday afternoon to make clear it was 300 people who signed the anti-academy letter, as it is unclear whether or not they were all parents, and to add that UST did not respond to a request for comment.

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