James Forsyth

Why the battle over Downhills Primary School matters

Why the battle over Downhills Primary School matters
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Downhills Primary School in Haringey is fast becoming a political battleground. Before Christmas, David Lammy, the local MP, a bunch of union leaders, left-wing opponents of education reform and Labour councilors wrote to The Guardian complaining about Michael Gove’s plans to convert primary school with poor academic records into academies.

In the New Year, Michael Gove responded with a speech in which he attacked those opposing to dealing with these sub-standards schools. He accused them of being subscribers to the “bigoted backward bankrupt ideology of a left wing establishment that perpetuates division and denies opportunity.” (Pete blogged about the significance of the speech at the time.)

The power of Gove’s argument is that it is hard to be satisfied with a school where, in its best results in years, 39 percent of pupils failed to reach level 4 in English and Maths. If the pupils of this school are to have a decent chance both at secondary school and in life then it seems clear that reform is needed.

But tomorrow night, David Lammy will address a public meeting called to oppose a conversion to academy status. Speaking alongside Lammy will be the head of the National Union of teachers Christine Blower, Fiona Millar who was a Cherie Blair adviser before leaving and becoming a fervent critic of the Blair government’s efforts at education reform and Alasdair Smith of the Anti Academies Alliance who was billed at a recent Institute of Education Conference as Secretary of the AAA and a member of the SWP. The striking thing is that Lammy is making common cause with people who were opposed to the last Labour government’s best efforts at schools’ reform.

If Gove is to win this fight to improve some of the worst schools in the country, then he is going to have to be prepared to face down this left-wing alliance. He is going to have to show the country that education reform is a matter of social justice.