Wembley school petition handed to government as parents and staff fight against 'forced academisation'

MP Barry Gardiner, parents, students and supporters of Byron Court school deliver a petition to the Department of Education in Westminster
-Credit: (Image: Facundo Arrizabalaga/MyLondon)


A North London MP has presented the Department for Education (DfE) with a 2,000-strong petition on behalf of parents and teachers in the hope of staving off plans to turn a local primary school into an academy. Byron Court Primary School, in Wembley, is set to become an academy school after it was given an ‘inadequate’ rating in its last Ofsted inspection.

The report noted a ‘marked deterioration’ at the school, having previously been deemed ‘outstanding’ in 2012. The decision has sparked protests by parents, as well as six days of teacher strikes.

On Wednesday (June 5), MP for Brent North, Barry Gardiner, delivered the petition to the DfE office in Westminster. Campaigners hope that, by putting pressure on the government, it will agree to pause in procedure whilst a re-inspection of the school takes place.

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MP Barry Gardiner, parents, students and supporters of Byron Court school deliver a petition to the Department of Education in Westminster in London, Britain 05 June 2024. Facundo Arrizabalaga/MyLondon
Pupils and parents joined Barry Gardiner MP to hand in the petition -Credit:Facundo Arrizabalaga/MyLondon

Speaking to the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS), Mr Gardiner said: "It is building pressure because it's public opprobrium but, within the structure of the statute or within the procedures of the department, it doesn't actually force them to do anything."

He added: "Ultimately, the important thing is not the teachers, it's not the staff, it's not the school. It's the children, it's their education and the most important thing is to get that right. I believe the teachers are working night and day at the moment to achieve that."

Following the DfE decision, the school is set to come under the control of academy trust Harris Federation, much to the anger of some within the community. Many parents, alongside pupils, staff, and local politicians, have already staged a series of protests outside the school over the past few months.

MP Barry Gardiner, parents, students and supporters of Byron Court school deliver a petition to the Department of Education in Westminster in London, Britain 05 June 2024. Facundo Arrizabalaga/MyLondon
Tanisha Phoenix, 40, was one of the organisers of the 'Save Byron Court' campaign -Credit:Facundo Arrizabalaga/MyLondon

A parent and organiser of the campaign group 'Save Byron Court', Tanisha Phoenix, 40, told the LDRS that they are 'not going to take [the decision] lying down'. Many feel that parents have been 'shut out of the process' and have pledged to 'keep fighting'.

Tanisha said: "We wanted to present our petition officially to the DfE to let them know that there are 2,000 people that have signed it who are opposed to this forced academisation process. [...] We can't be ignored anymore, the community has spoken, they need to listen to us, they can't keep closing the door and ignoring us."

She added: "If there are improvements to be made, let the local authority address those and give us the chance to keep the school in council hands. [...] The choice is being taken out of our hands and once it becomes an academy it can never go back. Academy does not necessarily mean improvement and even if on paper it does, at what cost to our children, our staff, the local community?"

MP Barry Gardiner, parents, students and supporters of Byron Court school deliver a petition to the Department of Education in Westminster in London, Britain 05 June 2024. Facundo Arrizabalaga/MyLondon
Parents, staff, and pupils are fighting against the 'forced academisation' of the school -Credit:Facundo Arrizabalaga/MyLondon

Last month, the National Education Union (NEU) announced six days of strike action, which took place across dates in May and June. Teachers were unhappy with the academisation decision and many opted to 'put pressure' on the DfE and give key stakeholders 'a sense of hope' moving forward.

Huda Al Rukabi, a teacher at the school, told the LDRS that the atmosphere would be 'very different' if the academisation order is allowed to proceed and fears the high pressured environment could impact on the mental health of staff.

Ms Al Rukabi said: "The most important thing is the sense of community. A lot of children, when they leave the school, just remember Byron Court for the community - I was a pupil at Byron Court and now I'm a teacher. As an ex pupil, I want it to go back to a school that has that same sense of community."

She added: "I am extremely hopeful. The best thing is not to just sit there silent and passive, but be active. We need to be role models for the children." Marisa, 8, a pupil at Byron Court, wants it to remain a community school. She said: "I like it how it is and I don't understand why Ofsted [rated] us 'inadequate'."

MP Barry Gardiner, parents, students and supporters of Byron Court school deliver a petition to the Department of Education in Westminster in London, Britain 05 June 2024. Facundo Arrizabalaga/MyLondon
The latest step does not force the DfE to take any action -Credit:Facundo Arrizabalaga/MyLondon

The campaign has received support from local councillors, including Brent Council's cabinet member for children, young people and schools, Cllr Gwen Grahl, who called the DfE decision 'draconian' and is in favour of re-inspection by Ofsted. The DfE was approached for comment but did not respond ahead of publication.

A spokesperson for the Harris Federation told the LDRS: "Following a decision by the Department for Education, we are pleased to welcome Byron Court into the Harris Federation. We look forward to working with the school community to restore the high standards the school has traditionally been known for so that all pupils benefit from an enriching and rewarding education."

They added: "Our pupils' personal development is at the forefront of everything we do and we offer a wide-ranging extracurricular programme to complement our high academic standards. Most of our academies inspected by Ofsted are rated as 'outstanding' with inspectors commenting on how nurturing our schools are as well as on the highly positive relationships we have with pupils and their families."

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