By Sarah Dyer
In October 2011 pupils, parents and teachers of Downhill’s school in Haringey, North London learnt that their much loved local primary would be one of two local schools to be converted into an academy. In wake of this news, a heavily parent led campaign began to prevent this action from happening. In November their campaign went public and more people were becoming aware of Downhill’s story. On January 28th 2012, over 1000 parents, pupils, teachers and members of the local community marched in protest to express their opposition to Downhill’s becoming a Harris academy. However, just a few short months later in September 2012, Downhill’s lost the fight and the school was given academy status. It now goes by the name of Harris Primary Academy.
Sarah Williams, a musician and mother of three (two of which were Downhill’s pupil’s at the time) was one of 147 votes out of 166 against Downhill school becoming an academy. After learning her children’s school was in jeopardy of becoming an academy, she stepped up, and together with other concerned and angry Downhill parents, started a campaign to stop Michael Gove from taking their school. Academies Uncovered spoke to Sarah who was willing to share with us her story.
What was your reaction when you first heard that Downhill’s was set to become an academy?
I didn’t believe it. I thought we had a choice, I assumed that we lived in a democracy where we would have been heard and our opinions taken into consideration. I thought there would be fair play.
Your campaign was well received by teaching, student and anti-academy groups and your local area. Apart from the Government, was there any other opposition?
Not really, we had an awful lot of support but unfortunately our local labour council was not supportive of our cause. I think it is because they didn’t want bad press and wanted the problem to just go away.
How did you feel when the school did become an academy?
I was deeply upset. It was as if they had come out and said “You little people don’t have a choice and we don’t live in a democracy.”
What are your fears for if more schools become academies?
You just don’t know what they’re doing in these schools. I am sure there are some wonderful academies but as more schools become academies they become more closed off from the local council. Our campaign showed that local people care about our schools and that we don’t want academies.
Harris academy federation
“The Harris Federation comprises 19 primary and secondary academies and we are one of the most successful Academy groups in the country.” Harris academies federation was given its name after Lord Philip Harris of Peckham, one of Britain’s wealthiest men. He has been known to give the current conservative government over £2 million pounds. Those who protested against Downhill’s forced academisation made signs which were used at pickets which read: “Lord Harris gave the Tories £2m so they gave him our school!”
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