George Tomlinson Primary School, Leytonstone: the spectre of ‘academisation’ persists?

Earlier posts have reported on recent events at George Tomlinson Primary School in Leytonstone, and in particular noted the apprehension of some parents, teachers and onlookers that it is being prepared for ‘academisation’, perhaps by stealth.

The development that first triggered such anxieties – the involvement of The Lime Academy Trust in the management of the school – has now come to an end, but as several correspondents have reminded me, this has by no means re-established a satisfactory status quo.

What in part is fuelling the fire at this juncture is the governing body’s appointment of one Dr. Mathew Laban as interim associate headteacher and staff governor. For Dr. Laban turns out to be a far more noteworthy, and in some respects controversial, figure than at first sight might be expected.

It should be said at the outset that Dr. Laban has a distinguished record as a headteacher going back to 2012, and for some months even managed to lead both a primary school and a secondary school simultaneously. In this sense, he may well be seen as something of a catch.

So far, so good.

But what has been noted, too, is Dr. Laban’s long-standing Conservative Party affiliation, and more especially his vocal support for academies. Indeed, according to his Linkedin profile, prior to his recent emergence in Waltham Forest, every one of Dr. Laban’s appointments has been in the academy sector. And his commitment to academies also stretches well beyond teaching, because it is a matter of public record that between July 2011 and February 2015 he was a director, and on occasion chair and accounting officer, of an academy trust in Enfield – company 07355559, Cuckoo Hall Academies.

The latter information is greeted with wry amusement in some quarters, schadenfreude in others. This is because, though after its creation in 2010, Cuckoo Hall attracted much favourable publicity, and attained the status of an unofficial ‘Tory flagship’, a scathing Education Funding Agency report of February 2015* rubbed off a good deal of the sheen, citing serious ‘material breaches’ over safeguarding, and the management of conflict of interest, particularly as regards the recruitment of family members. Symptomatically, the resulting furor was such that even local MP Nick de Bois, a Conservative, was moved to suggest that ‘the principle board members’ should resign.

It is important to stress that no laws were broken during this episode; exact responsibility for what occurred has always been disputed; and compared to some of his colleagues, Dr. Laban’s involvement was anyway peripheral.

It may be, as well, that having experienced at first hand how easily things can go wrong, he has emerged a more rounded character, and thus one more suited to George Tomlinson.

And yet, all this accepted, it is also not difficult to understand why in some quarters his presence is felt to be unsettling.

In appointing Dr. Laban, the George Tomlinson governors observed that they had overseen ‘a thorough recruitment process’, which delivered him as the ‘stand out’ candidate. This is reasurring. But given what else has gone on at the school recently (for which see earlier posts) it might be a good idea if the governors now add a copper-bottomed assurance that, Dr. Laban or not, their school’s legal status will for the foreseeable future, at least, remain unchanged.


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