London assembly for North East London — fighting your corner at City Hall

The Mayor of London has been accused of “hypocrisy” after he personally intervened to secure the future of a proposed free school in Hammersmith and Fulham. The Mayor previously claimed he did not have the power to intervene in disputes over the status of schools, but yesterday directly intervened to find sites for the proposed free school, in turn securing funding from the Department for Education and allowing it to open in September.

The Local Authority-controlled Sulivan Primary School was due to close, with Fulham Boys Free School set to replace it. However, the newly elected Council in Hammersmith and Fulham decided to review this decision, making the future of Fulham Boys uncertain and resulting in the Department for Education withdrawing its funding for the school.

When I asked him to intervene to save Sulivan Primary School at Mayor’s Question Time in October 2013, the Mayor refused to do so, stating: “I will not take responsibility because I do not have the statutory power to do so.” Yesterday however, the Mayor intervened to identify alternative future sites for Fulham Boys School, meaning that the Department for Education will again release funds so that the school can open as planned in September.

Yesterday’s intervention by the Mayor stinks of hypocrisy. Back in October, in front of the teachers and pupils of Sulivan School, who had come to City Hall to meet with the Mayor, he said he could not step in to save the school, but today he has directly intervened with Fulham Boys School.

The fact that he has only stepped in now also raises serious questions over the Mayor’s position on schools in our capital. He could have helped find an alternative site for Fulham Boys earlier, allowing Sulivan Primary to remain open, but it seems he was content to see Sulivan demolished so that a free school could replace it. While I welcome any move that provides security for parents and pupils of Fulham Boys School, I find it galling that the Mayor feels it is perfectly reasonable to get involved in this way when he wasn’t willing to work with me to save Sulivan Primary School last year.

This week, Mayor Boris Johnson supported the Government’s view that Free Schools should be allowed to employ unqualified teachers.

In saying this, Boris is harking back to his own school days at Eton nearly 40 years ago, but teaching has moved on since then. We need teachers who are fully qualified and can teach our children to the highest possible standards.

A recent poll by YouGov in The Times found that 66% of people believe schools should only be able to employ people with formal teaching qualifications.

Free Schools are a dangerous ideological experiment that is leading to real problems with young people’s education. All schools should follow the national curriculum and employ qualified teachers, the fact the Mayor thinks otherwise just goes to show how out of touch he is.

This week I challenged Boris at Mayor’s Question Time about plans to demolish Sulivan Primary School in Fulham, which is rated Good with Outstanding features by Ofsted. The local council want to replace it with a free school, which is deeply opposed by parents, teachers and pupils. Boris said he supported the demolition of the school, and refused to support the pupils. In doing so, he is putting blind ideology before the needs of our children.

At yesterday’s Mayor’s Question Time, I challenged the Mayor about his support for Free Schools, and asked him whether he thought it was right that Sulivan School – rated as Good with Outstanding features by Ofsted – is being closed and knocked down in order to build a Free School.

Regrettably, Mayor Boris Johnson refused to support the children, parents and teachers of Sulivan Primary School. The children pleaded with the Mayor through song at City Hall, but he remained supportive of the Free Schools’ programme and refused to write to the Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham to add his name to the list of people who oppose the closure of Sulivan School.

The Mayor has been outspoken about his support of Free Schools across London despite the Local Government Association (LGA) urging the government to ensure free schools are not set up in areas with a surplus of school places.

I find it shocking that the Mayor has chosen to ignore the plight of the children from Sulivan Primary School. I asked Boris if he thought it was right for Hammersmith and Fulham Council to try and bulldoze this fantastic school to make way for a free school, but he refused to offer his support. He said the new free school would make a positive impact.

The pupils, parents and teachers from Sulivan primary school came to City Hall to tell the Mayor directly that they wanted him to help them save their school. The children even baked him a cake with ingredients from the school garden. However, the children, parents and teachers of Sulivan School were shocked and disappointed that Boris won’t support their campaign. He has let down Londoners who were depending on him.

I have visited Sulivan School and it’s a wonderful environment for children. To demolish a perfectly good school in an attempt to push forward the Government’s misguided policy on free schools is ludicrous. Boris said he has no responsibility for education yet he has made it a priority to help find sites for free schools in London and investing £30 million in education matters.

You can find out more by clicking here.

You can find my question to Boris on this issue between times 2:17:55 and 2:26:00 on the video.

I had the pleasure of meeting the Headteacher, staff and pupils at Sulivan Primary School in the London  Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham this morning.

Wendy Aldridge, the Headteacher, is fighting a battle to keep her school open, as the Council are threatening to shut it down, move the children to a neighbouring school and then build a free school on the current site. This is despite the fact that the school’s nursery and reception year groups are full and over-subscribed.

In my role as Chair of the newly-formed Education Panel on the London Assembly, I am keen to hold the Mayor to account on behalf of Londoners, and it is cases like the one at Sulivan Primary School that really bring home, to me, why it is so important to do this.

You can find out more about Sulivan Primary School’s campaign here. I wish Wendy, her staff, friends and pupils all the best with their fight.

You can follow their campaign on twitter @SaveOurSulivan