A parents’ group protesting at cuts at a primary school in Blackheath has been banned from contacting the academy trust which runs the school except under the terms of a policy designed to deal with harassment, 853 has discovered.
Parents began a campaign after two office staff at Brooklands Primary School were threatened with redundancy as part of a plan by the Maritime Academy Trust, which runs seven schools in south-east London and Kent, to make its operations more efficient. The two office staff have now been made redundant and invited to reapply for their jobs. This happened after the school’s parent governors either resigned or were removed from their roles.
Now the Brooklands Parents Action Group (BPAG), which has raised concerns about the redundancies of staff they say were vital to their children’s wellbeing, has been told it can only communicate with the trust through a “persistent complaints and harassment policy”.
Among other things, the trust is unhappy that the group took parents’ complaints to 853, which revealed the problems at Brooklands last month. It is also unhappy that Clive Efford, the local MP, was initially going to come to a meeting between parents and the academy. The trust also says that its members have been subjected to harassment on social media.
There are about 250 pupils at Brooklands, and about 150 families signed a letter protesting about the plans to cut the office staff. About 50 are taking part in the action group through WhatsApp.
The breakdown in relations between the parents’ group and the trust came after the two held a “mediation” meeting last month to discuss Brooklands parents’ worries about the school. Efford had been due to attend, but pulled out after the trust threatened to withdraw from the meeting if he attended.
Since then, the two groups have disagreed on what was agreed at the meeting as a way forward, with the parents complaining that documents supplied by the trust have been redacted or not what was promised. The parents demanded to receive documents that they say were agreed at the meeting, including minutes of trust meetings, a review of school finances in another London borough and data on staff attrition at Brooklands and other local schools.
The trust refused, with the chair of trustees, Tiffany Beck, saying in a letter: “We will not agree to demands which undermine the trust’s independence and strong corporate governance practices or represent operational interference in the running of the school and trust.
“At this juncture the Maritime and Brooklands leadership have decided that all reasonable steps have been taken to work with BPAG and have requested that all future correspondence now be dealt with through the trust’s persistent complaints and harassment policy.
“There is a significant amount of misinformation which has been repeatedly explained and there is very little we can do if facts are not engaged with in either a constructive or helpful manner. Our role as trust leaders, whether at central or school level, is to focus on building a great organisation.”
One parent involved in the campaign, Vince Raison, told 853: “The trust promised to provide a number of documents, mostly minutes. They haven’t done so and seem to think people asking them to keep their word is harassment.
“The minutes should prove the governors challenged the trust on certain issues. The trust got rid of the governors because they ‘didn’t provide the right challenge’ to the trust. There are questions they just won’t answer and they are furious that we keep asking.”
The trust’s, vice-chair, Martin Myers told 853: “As you will see from the letter, we have extensively engaged with BPAG, responding to their concerns in both correspondence and a meeting moderated by an independent third party. While the contents of our correspondence and meeting are private, BPAG continue to raise substantially the same unsubstantiated issues (notwithstanding our replies), make demands that the trust cannot legally fulfil and submit prolific correspondence causing a high level of disruption to the trust.
“Members of the trust have also been subject to unwarranted personal harassment on social media and a number of parents have complained about the tone of the actions taken outside of the Brooklands premises. The trust has not taken this decision lightly, but it has a duty to support the well-being of pupils, staff and volunteers.”
Asked about the trust’s complaints of harassment, Raison responded: “There has been some comments on social media, especially in response to the trust’s propaganda. It’s social media. People have that right. Nick Osborne [the trust chief executive] and Tiffany Beck don’t seem to mind commenting on John Roan, I believe. They have the same right.
“I seriously doubt whether anyone has complained about the tone of the actions taken outside of the Brooklands premises. There’s been a peaceful and polite protest, away from the eyes of kids and some leaflets have been handed out.”
While 853’s coverage of the Brooklands row was singled out as a reason for the trust ending communication with the parents, a similar story in a Petts Wood-based news outlet, the News Shopper, was not. Asked about this, Myers said: “We understand that the matter was picked up from your site report. As such, the article was not initiated by the BPAG.”
Maritime Academy Trust has its roots in a partnership between Brooklands and Millennium Primary School in Greenwich, which began in 2013, with Timbercroft school in Plumstead joining a year later. But since the trust formed in 2016 the original trio has expanded to seven schools – including two in Gillingham, Kent – with an eighth on the way in the new town of Ebbsfleet next year.
The discord at Brooklands follows the forced academisation of John Roan School in Blackheath, strike action at Halley Academy in Kidbrooke and the decision of governors at Sherington Primary School in Charlton to scrap plans to become an academy.
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