PARENTS, pupils and staff all confronted Greenwich Council officials at a raucous meeting over their school's proposed closure.
Councillors themselves were nowhere to be seen so it was up to Director of Children's Service Gillian Palmer and officers to face a packed, hostile, sports hall at Blackheath Bluecoat yesterday (Oct 11).
Bluecoat could be shut in a phased closure starting next year due to declining pupil numbers and a rising financial debt.
Ms Palmer was shouted down from the outset as she suggested splitting the audience into smaller groups to ask questions.
"Together we stand," shouted one parent to applause from the room.
Ms Palmer admitted the school was improving but told parents: "What we haven't been able to do is make much of an inroad in the perceptions of the school in the community it serves."
She then faced questions ranging from why another school could not be closed instead to whether the debt – projected to rise to £1.5m - could not be paid off another way.
Parent Joy Alison said: “You work for Children’s Services. Aren’t you supposed to be on our side, to keep children in education?”
She said: “Where are the councillors? We want to speak directly to the council. That’s why we came here.”
Sarah Davidson, whose daughter is in Year 9, told Ms Palmer: “When I asked you what’s the best school to send my child what did you tell me? What did your staff tell me? Blackheath Bluecoat.”
Several pupils, some crying, lined up to praise their school, while many parents praised the standards of teaching and its Christian ethos.
And former pupil Michael Ajeleti, who now teaches science at Bluecoat, got a standing ovation, yelling: “Go back to your officials and let them know that this school is not closing.”
In response to the statements Ms Palmer said: “I have to say you have made a very powerful case in support of Blackheath Bluecoat.
“It’s with some pride that I hear these messages about the difference that teachers are making to children at this school and that’s absolutely fantastic.
“We will take these messages back.”
As officers tried to address some of the questions they were met with a chant of “This is our school”.
The meeting then broke into smaller groups.
Greenwich Council’s consultation will run until November 2 with no final decision planned until January.
"You've got a fight on your hands."
At the meeting there were the first signs that parents are willing to take their opposition further.
One mother told Ms Palmer: “We’ll stand outside the school every day of the week until you agree to keep this school open.”
Another yelled out to massive cheers: “You’ve got a fight on your hands. There’s a lot of people backing this school. If you want a fight you’ve got one.”
Eleanor Davies, who led a two-month rooftop protest over the planned demolition of Lewisham Bridge School in summer 2009, also addressed parents.
Talking about that protest, she said: “Every single meeting, every single petition, all the letters that came back, all were against.
“The problem was that it was council officers, paid officers like yourselves, that had written the proposal.”
She said: “I think the only way that we can make you listen is to do something drastic.
“You are in for a fight.”