"Hands off Hove Park School"

With students and staff on half-term holiday, the increasingly-heated controversy about the future of Hove Park School is reaching a crisis.

With students and staff on half-term holiday, the increasingly-heated controversy about the future of Hove Park School is reaching a crisis.

Governors at one of the most-improved schools in the country are investigating the possibility of converting the school into an academy, outside of local authority accountability.

But many parents and councillors are concerned that the move is unnecessary and will change the relationship of the school with its surrounding community.

Derek Trimmer, the headteacher, published a 1,300-word statement explaining why the school is even considering a switch.

He said: “Academy status aims to give more control over decision-making directly to the school. In short, academies have greater freedom to achieve best value for their students.

“As an academy we would have greater control over the way in which we spend our budget and the types of project that we would like to engage in.

“This ranges from being able to apply more directly to central government for funds relating to building projects, to choosing the types of school improvement partnerships we want to develop.

Mr Trimmer went on: “We know that about two thirds of secondary schools are now either academies or in the process of converting and the significant majority of them are converter academies which have made the decision to make the move of their own free will.

“A quick trawl through the DfE (Department for Education) list on the website shows that the vast majority of these are in fact very successful schools, in fact 89 per cent are currently judged as Good or Outstanding , with less than one per cent deemed to be seen as failing.

Meanwhile, the city council Green-led minority administration is seeking cross-party support for a ballot of parents - something that the school says it is not legally obliged to do. The move will be discussed on Tuesday (June 2).

Councillor Sue Shanks, chair of the council’s children and young people committee, said: “Academies are deeply contentious and the decision to become an academy is irreversible, so it’s crucial that everyone is fully consulted. It’s disappointing that the school won’t conduct their own ballot. However we always said that we would do all we can to make sure that parents have their say.

She added: “Regardless of what the school decides to do, we will seek a good working relationship to try and ensure the best for children, staff and the community.”

Hands Off Hove Park, a parent-led pressure group, has been objecting to the plans, which it says have not been subject to proper consultation. It has gathered almost 1,700 signatures on a petition to keep the school accountable to councillors.

Sharon Duggal, on behalf of the group, has written to governors raising concerns that three of the six parent-governor posts are vacant.

She said Pinacki Ghoshal, the city council’s director of children’s services, had twice written to the governors instructing them to hold elections: "The reason for this instruction is that the board is currently in breach of the local authority's regulations on the constitution of school governing bodies. To date we are not aware of any reply to Mr Ghoshal’s instruction or the announcement of any elections.

"Hands Off Hove Park School originally alerted the local authority to this breach and it's 160+ members are very concerned that the board is not taking this matter in hand as a serious breach of governance. At a few of the parent consultation meetings, Mr Nicholls [chair of governors] said that the reason that the elections had not taken place was that the governors are only volunteers and given the academy consultation, didn't have the time for parent governor elections.

'We do not consider it acceptable to say that a breach of governance is excusable for these reasons. One of the reasons there is a regulatory structure is to ensure correct and robust decision-making."

Ms Duggal called for the election of three parent-governors to be carried out immediately - "and certainly before any vote on academisation takes place".

For more information, visit www.handsoffhoveparkschool.wordpress.com and www.hovepark.brighton-hove.sch.uk