United Learning confirmed as taking over John Roan School

John Roan School
John Roan School has been hit by industrial strife over the academy plans

The academy chain United Learning has been confirmed as the new sponsor of John Roan School in Blackheath, ending months of uncertainty about the historic school’s future.

United Learning will take over the school in September but will begin working alongside its headteacher Cath Smith immediately, parents were told today.

The 300-year-old school, which is currently controlled by Greenwich Council, has been repeatedly hit by strikes by teachers and support staff since Ofsted judged it to be “inadequate” in June 2018, prompting the Department for Education to force it to become an academy.

University Schools Trust , which runs the Greenwich Trust School in Charlton, was its preferred sponsor, but pulled out in December, saying it did not have the resources to turn the troubled school around.

Now United Learning, which runs Bacon’s College in Rotherhithe and Newstead Woods girls’ school in Orpington, is to take the school on. United Learning is also involved in the running of Sedgehill school in Catford.

“Whilst we are not responsible for the how and why of The John Roan School becoming an academy, we are now responsible for the school’s successful future and we look forward to beginning our working relationship with you,” United Learning chief executive Jon Coles wrote to parents today.

“I am grateful to those of you who have contacted me directly in recent weeks. I am well aware that the priority for most people is the progress and stability of the school in the interests of the pupils and that the precise governance arrangements of the school are less important. I want to assure you that our focus is entirely on education, the good of the young people and the future success of the school.

“Like most people working in education, I believe that more important than the structural arrangements, and key to good education, are the quality of people working in a school, the relationships between staff and pupils, the values, the culture and climate and the processes which support adults to do a good job of teaching and supporting children. I hope that even those of you who are sceptical will give us a chance to win your confidence on all of these points and show that we are highly competent and professional in supporting school improvement.”

John Roan protesters
The move to become an academy was greeted with fierce opposition

The decision to force John Roan to become an academy unleashed a political row, with Greenwich Council and local MP Matt Pennycook opposing the decision.

The John Roan Resists campaign group, which had campaigned against the forced academisation of the school, wrote on its Facebook page: “Democracy should be about transparency and accountability. This process has been anything but. We will continue to resist as ever. This is not over.”

United Learning has pledged to keep the school’s identity. John Roan School can date its history back to 1677, when the Mr Roan’s Charity school was set up after a bequest from an aide to King Charles I. The aide was jailed in the English Civil War and was refused when he asked his brother for help. In response, John Roan cut his brother out of his will and left money to set up a school for the “town-born children of Greenwich”.

“My will and mind is that the said poor children shall wear on their upper garment the cognisance or crest of me, John Roan,” he said. A girls’ school followed in the early 19th century.

The boys’ and girls’ schools were merged into the current John Roan School in 1980.

The John Roan Foundation Trust still exists and provides the school with extra resources. It owns the freehold to the school’s Maze Hill site and its playing field at Kidbrooke Park Road, while Greenwich Council owns the freehold to its Westcombe Park Road site. The foundation will be unaffected by the school’s switch to academy status.

Earlier this week, 853 revealed parents’ anger at cutbacks by Maritime Academy Trust at Brooklands Primary School, also in Blackheath. This morning, parents demonstrated outside the school gates against the plans, which could see two support staff lose their jobs.

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