Cllr Andrew Wood represents Canary Wharf Ward in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets.
The announcement that Theresa May, the Home Secretary, supports a satellite extension of a grammar school into her constituency sounds like a good idea. Allowing the expansion of great schools should be at the heart of government policy. However, in this case allowing the satellite expansion of an existing school would be a mistake.
Councils opposed to academies and free schools would claim the right to do the same thing in their own areas. Current government policy is based on a presumption that every new school is set up by an academy or free school group not by local authorities. For every new grammar run satellite school we would have five local authority run satellite schools by Councils ideologically opposed to losing control. It would reduce choice and quality, which runs contrary to everything this government has done so far in education. As we could not limit satellite schools to only existing grammar schools we would be opening the gates to all.
For example in my area of East London, it would give Lutfur Rahman, the Mayor of Tower Hamlets, the opportunity to deprive an Ofsted rated outstanding school, Canary Wharf College, of a potentially fantastic new school site in the area for their newly approved secondary school. We know he is looking for an excuse to take the site as a satellite of an existing secondary school but that would mean only one secondary school provider on the Isle of Dogs.
The new commissioners to be appointed by Eric Pickles have no direct involvement in education and probably could not stop it. Parents have told me that if that new site does not got to an excellent new school they will leave the area, which would be disastrous. I suspect that the same would not be true in Maidenhead, as parents would still get an excellent new academy or free school.
In Tower Hamlets we have some excellent local authority-run schools. But Mr Rahman is so determined to present a positive front that the fact that the percentage of children going to Ofsted-rated Outstanding primary schools has declined from 27 per cent to 15 per cent in the last five years has been glossed over – as has the fact that the percentage of pupils going to primary schools rated as Inadequate went from zero to four per cent in the same time period.
The solution would be to leave it up to schools themselves to make the decision. We have many new multiple academy trusts breaking free from local authority control, allowing schools to work together in partnership and to choose the partners who are most appropriate to them. Give the new site in Maidenhead to a free school group or an academy and let them work together with the neighbouring grammar schools if that is what they want to do. Lets schools decide what to do, they know best.