Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 18th July 2018

We can save Thomas Bennett. Yes, the funding situation is bad, but that’s true of every Crawley school. Yes, PFI makes things even tougher, but Thomas Bennett isn’t the only school to have been rebuilt under PFI. Yet, Thomas Bennett is alone in the scale of the cuts currently proposed, something only mismanagement by its academy chain can explain.

Speaking with local parents, teachers and education experts over recent months, one thing repeatedly comes up in discussions: to save Thomas Bennett we must first remove it from the grasp of the academy chain and restore it to public control. This is something campaigners have been working towards since the scale of cuts proposed for the school became clear and last week, when I challenged our MP at the Tilgate Forum to support the campaign to ditch the academy chain he finally agreed.

Securing the support of our MP is a big step, the call from West Sussex County Council for greater powers to intervene in failing academies is another important development, which just leaves us with one final hurdle in saving the school: the Department for Education.

Under the Conservatives, it isn’t possible to take a school directly back into public ownership. However, it is possible to merge an academy with a council-run school, in the process returning the school to the public. In Hampshire they’ve merged a council primary with a secondary academy, not only restoring public ownership but accessing the benefits of run-through primary-secondary provision, not least the chance to do more with the Special Needs budget by delivering at scale.

However, for Thomas Bennett to be saved we need the support of our local MP, the local county council and the Department for Education. We already have two out of three, what we need now is the Department for Education. It’s the job of an MP to lobby Government on behalf of their constituency and until last year ours was even part of the Education team. We need him to use those connections now, ensuring Thomas Bennett returns to public control and is saved from vicious cuts.

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