Concerns over Hackney ‘Superhead’s’ five school academy bid

Greg Wallace, executive principal of the Best Start Federation

Greg Wallace, executive principal of the Best Start Federation - Credit: google

The National Union of Teachers (NUT) believes other schools in the borough could be hit financially if 10 per cent of its primary schools opt out of local authority control.

Concern has been raised about plans for five Hackney primary schools, which are all run by the same ‘superhead’, to opt out of local authority control and become academies.

Greg Wallace is executive principal of all the schools comprising the Best Start Federation (BSF) - Woodberry Down Community Primary School in Woodberry Grove, London Fields in Westgate Street, Whitmore in Bridport Place, Shoreditch, Mandeville in Oswald Street, Lower Clapton and Burbage in Ivy Street, Hoxton.

Mr Wallace started out as head teacher of Woodberry Down in 2001, and it was deemed to be so successful he was drafted in to turn the other underperforming schools around, which eventually came under the umbrella of the BSF.

Now the BSF governing body has just ended a two month consultation with staff, parents and the community on its proposal to convert the schools into academies.

This would pave the way for the BSF to tackle other underperforming schools outside the borough.

Mr Wallace said: “We believe we’ve proven through being the biggest federation in Hackney and one of the biggest in the country, that our philosophy systems work really well, even in really challenging circumstances, we think it’s right to extend the opportunities.

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“We think we can do more by not limiting ourselves to Hackney.

He continued: “What we are convinced about is how all the schools have continued to improved in spite of, and we would say because of, the expansion.”

But Hackney’s branch of the National Union of Teachers (NUT) is concerned about the plans.

They believe removing five primary schools from the 53 which are all currently controlled by the local authority will have knock on effects on the budget for the remaining maintained schools,

The NUT is already concerned about pressures already put on teachers at the school, and fear this could be exacerbated if the BSF has more independence.

Last April 10 teachers took industrial action at Whitmore after Mr Wallace failed to reach an agreement with unions on a policy regarding work/life policy.

They claimed his testing- and target-focused regime was exhausting and was driving out existing staff at Whitmore.

Mark Lushington, joint NUT press and publicity officer said: “As well as all the normal reasons we don’t like academies, we are extremely concerned about what I would describe as the ethos of the schools in the BSF, not simply one of them and not simply this year but over time.

“We have witnessed a massive turnover of staff every time one of them has been taken over.

“Academies are going to have a great deal of power, they will be in control over whether people get a salary increase over the year, the ‘New State of Gove’ is incredibly unaccountable and open to questionable practices, so we are very concerned.”

But Mr Wallace said the quality of education has ‘improved enormously’ at the BSF’s schools, and this year Burbage made it to the list of the top 100 most improved schools in the country for Key Stage 2 results.

He added: “Yes there has been a large turnover of staff and that was what was needed to secure the improvements which were happening.”