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End of an era as black school is set for closure

AT RISK: John Loughborough School

JOHN LOUGHBOROUGH School was founded by a small group of parents in 1980 with the best of intentions - to give black children a well-rounded education in a supportive environment.

But now, the small school could be permanently shut by Haringey Council as early as August 2013 following a five-year battle for survival.

The Seventh Day Adventist faith school, in Holcombe Road, is found in the heart of Tottenham, north London – an area that produced Britain’s first black council leader, the late Bernie Grant, who later became one of its first black MPs.

It seems fitting that it was here, in a community of activists, that a black-led school would emerge as a solution to the disproportionate under-achievement of black pupils.

Within the borough of Haringey, John Loughborough School (JLS) has always been known as ‘the black school’ where the social and emotional needs of pupils of African and Caribbean heritage were as paramount as the educational ones.

For some, the school’s fate was sealed as soon it took the decision in 1998 to go from a fee-paying independent to a grant-maintained state school.

The change meant the school would be funded directly by central government but answerable to a governing body, not the local authority Haringey Council.

The following year it successfully applied for voluntary-aided status, which meant it would partially funded by the local authority. The move opened the door to more scrutiny, less autonomy and ultimately, a clash of ideals with emphasis now on attainment rather than the school’s traditionally holistic approach.

At its first ever Ofsted inspection in 2002, things were positive.

JLS was making good progress under the leadership of head teacher Dr Edwena McFarquhar, appointed in 2000 as the successor to Dr Clinton Valley who oversaw the school’s transition.

The Ofsted report noted with enthusiasm: “An important aspect of the school, which fosters achievement, is the way in which, through its spiritual provision, the school develops pupils' sense of self-esteem and raises their aspirations.

CONSEQUENCE

“As a consequence all pupils go on to some form of further education. Parents saw this aspect as being a very important feature of the school. Teachers hold pupils in respect and work very hard to make them feel special and the inclusive community, based around the church, is powerful in this regard.”

This was exactly why some black parents chose to send their children to JLS; the school was preparing its pupils for a better life.

But issues arose involving falling pupil numbers, high turnover of staff, some poor teaching which led to inconsistencies in attainment between subjects. For example, while JLS pupils excelled in English, they underperformed in maths leading overall exam results to fall required standards.

By 2007, Oftsed had issued the JLS with a ‘notice to improve’ and a battle for survival had begun.

However, former pupil Ziggy Moore, now a qualified secondary school teacher, said: “Everything I have I owe to John Loughborough; a sense of pride, a sense of knowing myself and a full awareness of why, as a black man, I would have to work that bit harder. I got decent GCSEs, but getting good education is sometimes more than results.”

He added: “To see things fall apart in the way that it has, is sad. Whatever people say, JLS is the closest thing we have to a black educational institution in Britain. The community should’ve got more behind it.”

In 2008, popular headteacher Dr June Alexis was removed from her post and replaced with Laura Osei by Haringey Council and an interim governing board despite signs of improvement.

PROTEST

The school’s active PTA staged a sit-in protest calling for her to be reinstated, but to no avail. She later won a legal battle for unfair dismissal and received an undisclosed sum in compensation.

Dr Edwina McFarquhar returned in 2010 to help reverse the school’s fortunes.

But at a meeting of Haringey Council’s cabinet on Thursday, December 13, following a six-week consultation period, the decision was made to shut JLS for good stating not enough progress had made.

Councillor Ann Waters, Haringey Council cabinet member for children said: “We firmly believe that that because of the poor outcomes for pupils attending this school and the lack of improvement, John Loughborough students would have a better chance of educational achievement if they were to attend other schools.”

In 2011, only 29 per cent of JLS pupils achieved five GCSEs, including English and maths compared to the 42 per cent average of African and Caribbean pupils in the borough of Haringey as a whole. In 2012, the results were 35 per cent and 50 per cent respectively.

As a result of the council’s decision, approximately 240 pupils – from both inside and outside Haringey, will be transferred to other schools including those halfway through their GCSEs.

Berton Samuel of the school’s governing body, told The Voice the school will be fighting the decision.

He said: “We are obviously opposed to the closure, and believe the council has not taken on board the full value of the school.

“It seems as if they have disregarded the views of parents, students and the last monitoring report which showed the school is improving.”

Samuel continued: “We are passionate about our school and providing a good standard of education, but also the life skills that make our students valuable contributors to society."

He added: “We will continue to pursue all options at our disposal to keep it open. It could include the school becoming an academy.”

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