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Roe Green Strathcona: Cabinet must reconsider plan to shut Wembley school, scrutiny committee rules

PUBLISHED: 17:26 03 October 2019

Roe Green Strathcona staff, union members and councillors after the call-in victory. Picture: Nathalie Raffray

Roe Green Strathcona staff, union members and councillors after the call-in victory. Picture: Nathalie Raffray

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Staff and supporters of a threatened primary school in Wembley scored a victory in their battle to stop it from closing - for now.

Roe Green Strathcona staff, union members and councillors at a call-in meeting over the school's planned closure. Picture: Nathalie RaffrayRoe Green Strathcona staff, union members and councillors at a call-in meeting over the school's planned closure. Picture: Nathalie Raffray

Brent's community and wellbeing scrutiny committee has sent the decision to close Roe Green Strathcona Primary School back to cabinet for review following a lively meeting last night.

Cabinet chiefs must now "reconsider the suggestion for additional provision on the site" before deciding on its future.

Teachers and union members picketed the building ahead of the meeting as part of their fourth day of industrial strike action.

Waving banners, they appealed to motorists to "save our school, beep your horns", which some did.

Nicole Lobo, executive head and Jag Sidhu head of Roe Green Strathcona prepared for call-in meeting to stop school closure. Picture: Nathalie RaffrayNicole Lobo, executive head and Jag Sidhu head of Roe Green Strathcona prepared for call-in meeting to stop school closure. Picture: Nathalie Raffray

Eight Brent councillors called in the decision made by cabinet members on September 9 to approve the school's closure.

Presentations were made by staff at Roe Green Strathcona, National Education Union (NEU) member Jenny Cooper, and Brent Trades Union representative Mary Adossides and also from councillors Jumbo Chan and Daniel Kennelly.

The committee was reminded that the school in Stratcona Road has only been open since 2014, when Roe Green Infant School in Kingsbury opened it to ease rising demand for junior school places - first on a temporary basis, and later permanently.

Brent Council maintains demands for school places is now falling and the money saved by closing Strathcona would be spread out among other schools.

Jenny Cooper, district secretary for Brent NEU, said: "Our bottom line is we seek written assurances there will no compulsary redundancies for our members and we are yet to receive this.

"Our members are responsible for establishing a successful school with good results, happy parents and well educated pupils.

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"Our members are also responsible for drawing up proposals for additional use for the Strathcona site. [...] The council has failed to engage with these proposals, and lack creativity, going with closure as the easy option."

But Gail Tolley, strategic director of children and young people, said she had "no doubt we would be able to avoid compulsory redundancies".

The case for additional provision for primary school aged children with special education needs [SEN] to be offered at the site alongside mainstream provision was also put forward.

Ms Tolley argued that children with SEN would soon be able to attend the expanded Avenue School, currently being developed by Brent Specialist Academy Trust, which will provide spaces for young people up to 19 with complex needs.

Committee member Claudia Hector said the site's future use was "a completely grey area" but Ms Tolley stressed it would still be used for education - although the priority would be provision for ages from 16 to 25.

The NEU's Ms Cooper said: "There seems to be an artificial division created between mainstream provision and special needs provision and it's something imaginative that Roe Green put forward in suggesting this could be included. The funding follows the child - it doesn't stop them having an inclusive provision."

Giving the example of the Corner School in Wembley, she added: "Why does Brent continue to use private provision and not Strathcona?"

Cllr Promise Knight raised the consultation results that saw 99.4 per cent of respondents vote against the plans and asked how officers would "mitigate the disapproval" felt by the community.

Teachers blamed the drop in pupil numbers on poor advertising on the website for prospective parents, saying Roe Green Strathcona is not listed.

Brent's operations manager for safeguarding Brian Grady claimed Leopold Primary School was listed on two sites, adding that: "Roe Green Strathcona has the same weight as Leopold Primary School on the website. We made it crystal clear."

But this was disputed by Cllr Chan who claimed to have entered "several postcodes in the catchment area" on the page in question without Strathcona coming up.

Following the meeting, executive head Nicole Lobo said: "There's still a long way to go. It will go through all the stages and hoops but at least we have been listened to. It was an overwhelming decision to take it back [to cabinet] - it gives us a lifeline. It's not over but we are thankful."

Cllr Jumbo Chan added he offered his "wholehearted solidarity" to teachers, governors and supporters, adding: "Though this represents a positive step, a final victory is still far off. Until then I and other councillors will continue to fully support their struggle to safeguard the integrity of their school, students and livelihoods."

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