The Government's preferred sponsor for a Croydon primary school it is forcing to become an academy is advertising for its new headteacher - despite not having been formally chosen to be sponsor.

Outraged parents decried "a farce" after the Harris Federation posted online an advert for the vacant headteacher position at Roke Primary School in Kenley.

The school's previous head, Caroline Phillips, quit at Easter after 12 years at the school as the academy conversion looms.

Parents were initially told she was on long-term sick leave and would be returning in September, but received a letter on Thursday informing them this was a mistake.

The letter read: "We are entering a new phase in the life of Roke Primary School as we move into the formal stage of the process to become an academy.

"It will be a period of rapid change, and our headteacher, Caroline has decided that now is the right time for her to move on to face a new challenge."

'A sham'

Within hours, an advert appeared on the Harris Federation website advertising the position of Principal at the school in Little Roke Road.

It said the school's proposed sponsor was Harris, "subject to the outcomes of a consultation".

But some parents cited the advert as further evidence the consultation - which closed on Friday - was "a sham".

Becky Carrier, 31, whose eight-year-old daughter Millie attends the school, said: "We are very angry because people put a lot of time into expressing our views, and this is like them saying actually it doesn't matter what we think.

"First Harris ran the consultation; now they appear to be recruiting our new headteacher. Why are they getting involved when apparently nothing has been decided? They are behaving like someone has already told them 'yes'."

"It is a complete farce. It feels like they are just going through the motions."

Malcolm Farquharson, chair of governors, said Harris had volunteered to run the advert to ensure the school had a new head in place in time for the autumn term.

He said: "They have got the time, the expertise and the manpower to do it, so that's what is happening."

A Harris Federation spokeswoman said: "The ad prominently says that the academy is 'a proposal' and 'subject to the outcomes of a consultation and the Secretary of State signing a Funding Agreement.'

"The reason for advertising the post now rather than after the consultation is that headteachers need to give notice by the 31st May if they wish to take up the post in September and we needed to allow time for a fair and thorough selection process.

"Given that the headteacher of Roke has resigned, if no recruitment process takes place now the school, in whatever form, would be without a headteacher in September."


There was further controversy this week when Riddlesdown Collegiate - the Purley secondary school staff, governers and parents at Roke requested to be sponsored by - announced it was set to be partnered Atwood Primary School in Sanderstead.

After the Department for Education (DfE) told Roke it had to become an academy, Roke requested to be partnered with Riddlesdown - which it had been informally partnered after receiving notice to improve last May.

Gordon Smith, Riddlesdown's principal, publicly backed the idea. But the DfE rejected it and named the Harris Federation as its preferred sponsor.

It said this was because Harris had "extensive experience of turning around previously underperforming schools in London - nine of which are now judged outstanding by Ofsted".

But Harris's four primary academies are not among those nine. Two of its primary academies, in Peckham and Grays, were told to improve by Ofsted this year. 

It has led to fears from parents at Roke that their school's performance could be compromised.

Ms Carrier said: "Roke is already making good progress and Harris look like they are simply cherry-picking it to improve their reputation with primaries."

An announcement on Roke's future is expected by May 11.

Parents have called for a public inquiry into the Government's handling of the school, which received consecutive outstanding Ofsted reports before its grade plummeted last year, while Conservative MP Richard Ottaway has publicly criticised the DfE's refusal to allow Roke to partner with Riddlesdown.

Parents are continuing talk with solicitor about possible legal action, after the Harris Federation was asked to run a consultation into Roke's future itself.