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Harringay, Haringey - So Good they Spelt it Twice!

Last week, Chestnuts Primary head told colleagues that the school will not be allowing delayed summerborn children into the nursery or reception classes because she has a summerborn starting in September. Leaving that interesting justification aside for one moment, the decision goes against ministerial recommendations to councils to allow parents to delay their summerborn children if they believe it is in their child’s best interests. Last year, the school’s minister, Nick Gibbs said that he would pass legislation through parliament to give parents the absolute right to delay their children. Until then, councils are urged to allow parents to do so. And this year, Haringey Council has allowed parents to delay a child’s entry to reception for one year, in a move it says underpins this ministerial advice and commitment to policy change.

Today thousands of children are being kept out of school by their parents in a protest against SATs for 6 and 7 year olds. I have a lot of sympathy for those parents and children. I can only imagine how disheartening it must be for a child and their parents to try to prepare for such an exam when they are not ready. And I’m so glad I have delayed my child’s entry for a year, until she is 5. At least that way if the education secretary doesn’t listen to parents and abandon these tests, my child will be 7 rather than 6 when she takes them. And hopefully, she will be ready for them and won’t be anxious and lose sleep over them.

My nursery, Woodland’s Park Nursery School has acted in accordance with the Council’s policy and given my child a place for next year. But last week, on the same day that I got formal confirmation from the nursery, they phoned me to say they’d had a conversation with the head of Chestnuts Primary who had advised them that children who have been delayed will not be allowed into reception at Chestnuts Primary. This was because on principle, the governing body doesn't agree with the policy change of delaying children. But she also mentioned that the head has a summerborn child who will not be delayed. 

The Council warned that my request has been agreed for Haringey community and voluntary controlled (VC) schools only. They cannot guarantee that any other type of school will agree to my child being educated out of year group. I thought Chestnuts Primary was a community school until I was advised by my nursery last week that although it is currently a community school, from next year they plan to be a “foundation” school.

My limited understanding is that there are two types of schools that have foundations involved in running them. In a VC school like St Aidan’s, the foundation has some formal influence in running the school, but the council still sets and applies the admission arrangements. So does Chestnuts wants be a voluntary aided (VA) school? These operate under foundations and the governors of the school set and apply the admissions arrangements. But VA schools must usually contribute at least 10% to the building or capital costs. In some circumstances local councils can help the governing body in buying a site, or can provide a site or building free of charge. So would the governing body of Chestnuts buy the site from the council? Or would the council just give it to them for free and grant them VA status? Wouldn’t the Council have to consult on this? And even if the governors were granted VA status and were allowed to set and apply the admission’s criteria, would it be legal for them to deny entry to reception to a delayed child, if as expected the recommendation is passed as legislation by parliament?

I’ve looked on their website and can’t find any mention of this change. So should I try to speak to the head again? She wasn’t interested in speaking to me before. A few months ago I went to the school and left a message with a lady at reception to find out if I could apply for a nursery place for my child if I delayed her entry to reception. The lady rang back, not the head, to tell me smugly that they would not give a place to a delayed child, because the governors did not agree with the policy change and the head teacher has a summerborn who won’t be delayed. I said I would rather speak to the head directly as I couldn’t believe they could go against the Council’s decision. She said that the head had been clear about her message so there was no point speaking to her. I then asked to know if there was any information on the website or anything in writing I could read. But she wasn’t aware of anything.

The decision, the justification for it and the way it has been communicated has made me re-examine why Chestnuts would have been my first choice anyway. I think it’s outrageous that the head teacher is using her own personal circumstances as a justification for the decision. I thought the receptionist was just being a bit gossipy in revealing that. Because to me it betrays a bias or conflict of interest. Does the head see it as some kind of badge of honour that she’s respecting the decision of the governors and not delaying her child? For whatever reason, she has decided to let her summerborn start in September. So does that mean that every summerborn should start then too? Does she think it would be unfair for other parents to have the choice if she doesn’t have it? In my experience, having spoken to many parents about my decision to delay my child, this is a very emotive issue. For those parents who weren’t or aren’t able or prepared to delay their child, they can be quite defensive. It seems to me they don’t want to think that their child might have been or might be disadvantaged by starting school too early. Like all parents they want their child to have the best start in life and it’s too upsetting to think that they might not. As the receptionist advised me, the basis for the governing body’s decision is that summerborn children would not be disadvantaged in their school. Personally, I think that is just arrogant tosh. What are they going to do about the national curriculum and SATs for 6 year old's? 

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I don't know the answers to all your questions. I understand that Chestnuts has already been part of a "co-operative trust" with North Harringay for a few years.

Government policy is that all schools have to become academy schools, and our council is pushing a plan that that all our schools should join multi academy trusts. There is lots of opposition to this from many school governors at current local authority schools, and from many parents I know, even ones who've chosen to send kids to a school which happens to be an academy (I know more such parents than I do parents who have chosen a school because it's an academy - most kids were there already or were the younger siblings of kids already there at conversion).

This is a position which can only be taken by a school which is already oversubscribed. I would consider asking at other local primaries - I don't know the situation of the first two, but there are St Mary's RC, Tiverton and Seven Sisters which are also near you. I will declare my bias as a Seven Sisters parent governor. At Seven Sisters we have a new head as of last September who is very committed to keeping the school as a community school which serves the community, and at our latest inspection we were rated Good (up from Requires Improvement), the same as Chestnuts, and the whole school feels very much on the up.

Thank you Luci, it's great to have the perspective from a governor of another school.

I did wonder myself if oversubscription might be a motivation here. Obviously that wouldn’t be good enough. Chestnut's decision, however oversubscribed they are, whatever type of school they are or powers they have to set admission criteria will hopefully be fair and based on a considered examination of the issues. And I hope that in future they will try to keep any conflict of interest or emotive reactions out of it. 

I did look at seven sisters but I will look and visit again! I wouldn't have written this post if I still wanted to send my child to Chestnuts. It wouldn't be a great start with the head now would it? So yes I will re-visit and re-think for my whole list.

As the chair of governors at Chestnuts, I wanted to briefly respond to your post.

To clarify the point about the types of schools, Chestnuts has been a foundation trust school since forming the Green Lanes Co-Operative Trust together with North Harringay Primary School in 2012 (our website which explains a bit more about the trust can be found here: http://greenlanescooperativetrust.com/about-the-trust). Nothing is planned to be changing regarding the status of the school in the next year. Foundation trust status is not the same as academy status, but it does give the governing body the power to set a different set of admission criteria from the one set by the local authority, although up to now Chestnuts haven't used this power.

No decision has yet been made by the governing body of Chestnuts as to what our approach to delayed admissions will be. The governing body did discuss the issue at the time of the DfE's letter last year and at that time the general view was that for a number of reasons we would continue to apply the current approach to delayed admissions. However, given that the DfE hadn't published any firm details of their plans (and still haven't - we still await the promised consultation paper) we haven't taken a final decision. 

However, I want to be absolutely clear that the headteacher has not raised the position of her own child in any of our discussions and no decisions by the governors will be based on her (or anyone else's) own personal situation.

Regarding the communications you've received from Woodlands, Chestnuts became aware for the first time last week that Haringey has been sending letters to parents to advise them that applications for delayed admissions were being accepted. As I understand it, the school hadn't been informed that these letters were being issued and that they were potentially misleading as they didn't make clear Chestnuts' position as a foundation school, even though they were going to potential Chestnuts parents. We therefore thought we should tell parents who we knew had received the letters that there was a strong chance that we won't be following Haringey's approach to delayed admissions and therefore the Haringey letter was potentially misleading. That message has obviously been miscommunicated somewhere along the line.

We are planning to make a firm decision on what to do regarding delayed admissions by the end of this academic year and will communicate the decision once this is made.

I'm sorry that there has been some confusion about the situation. Given that we will be making a decision soon I am of course interested to hear from parents who will be affected about their views - my contact details can be found here:http://www.chestnutsprimary.com/meet-the-governors/

Hugh Merritt - Chair of Governors, Chestnuts

Thank you Hugh I appreciate it and it's good to know that Chestnuts will be giving this some proper consideration.

The message both times was clear but the reasoning was off and I suspected it was not official. It sounded emotive and belligerent and that is very off-putting. Not a good example for impressionable young children.

I did read about the foundation trust before putting up my post. But I didn't see anything about either school being allowed to set or apply admission criteria. And the admissions booklet for 2016 still shows Chestnuts as a community school for which the council sets the admission criteria. So I still don't understand how Chestnuts is going to change it's status. Will it invoke it's powers as a voluntary aided school?

In that case the admissions booklet is incorrect. Chestnuts is (and has been since 2012) a foundation trust school, not a community school, and that gives us a power to set admission policy. We haven't diverted from Haringey's admissions policy to date so it is currently true to say we apply the Haringey admissions criteria, but no change of status is needed for us to adopt our own criteria. Haringey write the booklet so I can't take responsibility for what it says, but I believe that we are trying to clarify it for next year.

Okay thanks Hugh for this. I'm still not clear which type of school a foundation trust school is according to the council's criteria, if not voluntary aided. But it does sound like this is one for them to clarify.



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