Friday, March 08, 2013

Remembering the New School for New Cross Campaign

Ten years ago the biggest local issue in New Cross was not the NHS - nobody dreamt then that Lewisham Hospital's services could one day be under threat - but education. Specifically the shortage of secondary school places had become a crisis with many local children being unable to get into local schools and only being offered places miles away from home.

Parents set up a New School for New Cross Campaign and lobbied hard in Council meetings, in the media and in the streets. There were protests and large public meetings. As well as pushing for a new secondary school, the campaign put the admissions arrangements in existing local schools under scrutiny. Haberdashers' Aske's was particularly criticised for policies which seemed designed to cream off the most able students for miles around, while preventing a genuinely comprehensive local intake. Eventually the New School for New Cross Campaign developed into the broader Local Education Action by Parents which stood six candidates in Lewisham Council elections in 2002. One councillor was elected in the Telegraph Hill Ward, with its other councillors being from the left-of-Labour Socialist Party (that made the Ward fairly unique in the UK, with none of the major parties represented).

I was reminded of all this when I came across this article about the campaign in the Independent from April 2002 (if you click on the images to enlarge you should be able to read it - if not try right clicking on picture and select 'open in new window'). It shows parents and children demonstrating outside the empty Hatcham Wood school building on Wallbutton Road SE4. Lewisham Council had scheduled it to be converted to a Sixth Form and it became Crossways Academy. As the Council closed this within ten years of opening, the parents seem to have had a point about it not being the best use of the building (though as of 1 February 2013, it has been taken over as a Sixth Form by Christ the King Sixth Form College - it is known as Christ the King Aquinas, which should please Michael Gove with his fondness for pseudo-Etonian archaic classicism).

So did the campaign have any long term impact? It failed to get a new secondary school in the New Cross area, but it did put pressure on Lewisham and existing schools to review admissions arrangements. Haberdasher's Askes changed its criteria and is probably more representative of the New Cross community than it was ten years ago, with more local children. Its proposed new primary free school could make it more socially exclusive again however, as on distance criteria its location at the top of Pepys Road is likely to pull in a disproportionate intake of better-off children from the bigger houses on Telegraph Hill, rather than the rest of New Cross. As these primary children will be guaranteed a place in the secondary school, the latter's intake could be changed accordingly

Even the youngest children in the photos below are now coming to the end of their secondary school education. In the last week the 2013 secondary intake were notified of what school places they had been offered, and many have not got a place in their school of choice. My advice to parents having been through all the stress a couple of times is that you spend all that time worrying about it and before you know it they have finished! But the uncertainty about secondary school places remains a big issue and with rising birth rates won't be going away any time soon. The question posed on one of the 2002 placards - 'Why is our education a postcode lottery?' - remains relevant.

What most parents want today is pretty much the same as ten years ago - not a lot of gimmicks like 'free schools' and academies, but a guarantee of a good inclusive local comprehensive school which their children can walk to and from with their friends.

1 comment:

John Hamilton said...

Thanks for this reminder, Transpontine. The New School Campaign was a mass campaign for a few years and is one of the roots for resistance to government and council plans ever since in Lewisham. Activists from the New School Campaign and Save Ladywell Pool, and others, went on to form Lewisham People Before Profit which has meant the the government made a big mistake when it threatened Lewisham Hospital. Lewisham has a tradition of resistance built up over more that a decade and that is now reaching huge proportions as more and more people find their voices.

John Hamilton