Labour councillors in North Kensington welcomed the Kensington Aldridge Academy and its first pupils as the school opened its doors on 15 September. A large group of parents and their excited children joined senior staff at 8.25 am to become the first group of Year 7 students to be educated at the Academy.
Councillor Judith Blakeman recollects the very difficult campaign to get a new secondary school opened in North Kensington. She said: “my former colleague, Steve Hoier, recognised many years ago that demographic changes meant that we needed a new secondary school in North Kensington at the start of the new Millennium. He campaigned vigorously for a new school and the baton was picked up by the rest of the Labour Group when Steve left the Council”.
In the face of an unequivocal demand, the ruling Conservative Group persistently came up with excuses why they should not provide the school: there was no evidence of need; there was nowhere to build a new school; there was no money to build one. Then instead, they built a new Academy in Chelsea. Welcome though that was, it did not meet the massive demand for secondary school places in North Kensington.
Councillors spoke of parents in tears in their surgeries because their children had been allocated to under-performing schools far away from the borough. One group set up arrangements to home-school their children because they were so disgusted with the schools offered to them. Two generations of children had their life chances damaged by having to travel for up to four hours a day to get their secondary education. Groups of primary school friends were separated for years.
Eventually Kensington and Chelsea Council capitulated, realising that otherwise it would lose the £17 million that the Labour government’s Building Schools for the Future programme was offering for the project.
Yesterday the new Academy was being praised to the skies by its new students. One young man said: “I am thrilled with my new school and I will deal with anyone who damages or vandalises it”. Notting Dale ward councillor Judith Blakeman attended the school’s assembly on the second day and visited classes with the Academy Principal, David Benson. She said: “this new Academy has surpassed all our expectations. It is warm, friendly and welcoming and the facilities on offer are fantastic. I am confident that at last North Kensington children will receive the high quality education they deserve. It is particularly gratifying that so many of the pupils come from the Lancaster West Estate, where residents have been extremely patient with all the disruption that building the school has caused for them”.