Interview: Sarah Williams, Downhill’s school parent

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!”

Follow the investigation on Twitter: @AcademiesJourno


The who’s who of academies

By Megan Caulfield

With academies becoming increasingly popular – 1 in 4 schools are now academies –  we thought we would run through some of the most influential people arguing for and against the current movement.


  • Michael Gove

    image courtesy of conservativeparty flickr

    image courtesy of conservative party flickr

Michael Gove is a British Conservative politician who is the Secretary of State for Education. He is one of the biggest supporters of academies and is regularly seen promoting the programme in the media. He argues that the programme gives schools more freedom and responsibility and that this will increase overall running and performance of schools.

The Department for Education was formed on 12 May 2010 and is responsible for education and children’s services. They provide Information for schools interested in becoming an academy and information for existing academies, local authorities and sponsors.

They work closely with Michael Gove to make sure the programme runs as smoothly as possible.

The IAA is an acknowledged national body that is regularly consulted by the government and its opposition on matters regarding to education change. It holds three meetings yearly where they discuss differing group’s views on policy and strategy and provides networking opportunities and support for state funded independent schools.

According to their website they “aim to promote a positive public image and reputation for academies and other state-funded independent schools by means of media and PR activity.”



Ask Parents First are a parent-led group based in and around Birmingham.

According to their website they are “campaigning for open and democratic consultation with parents and prospective parents on school change to include a full and binding parental ballot before a school can convert to academy status.”

They formed in response to concerns over the way academy status appears to be forced on schools and school communities as a result of Michael Gove and the Department of Education’s academy programme, without consulting with parents or the community first.

They are hoping to get Birmingham City Council to oppose the forced conversion of Local Authority maintained schools to academies and to give parents more say about their child’s school.

The Anti Academies Alliance is a campaign composed of unions, parents, pupils, teachers, councillors and MPs.

They oppose the government’s Academies programme and believe that we need ‘a good school for every child.’

They meet at regular intervals throughout the year and have staff working on the campaign on a full time, day to day basis.


The academies commission has been set up to examine the implications of the mass conversion of state schools and the impact this might have on educational outcomes.

The full results and findings of their inquiry and summarised in the video below.