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”.
Following its star performance in Tatler magazine, the governors of Holland Park Academy, assisted by the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, are promoting a change to its admissions policy that will ensure that the school’s catchment area serves only the most affluent residential area in London. Campaigners expect this change to exclude most if not all of the children living deprived North Kensington, and to tempt many residents around Holland park to stop using fee-paying private schooling in favour of a free education at their local Academy.
A local benefactor has paid for a sculpture by Anthony Gormley to grace the new Academy, which is reputed to have cost the Council £100m to build. The rebuild was funded by selling part of the old school’s site to a property developer and a massive development of luxury homes is currently under construction. This follows a Council decision not to require any social rented or affordable homes to be built on site, making the luxury homes particularly attractive to foreign investors.
Kensington and Chelsea Labour Group Leader Cllr Judith Blakeman said: ‘We have opposed this change. The Academy benefits just as much as the pupils do from the current diverse intake of children. This in turn promotes social cohesion across the borough and indeed some of its star pupils destined for Oxbridge have come from North Kensington. It is a discriminatory and short-sighted policy which I hope that local resident and Secretary of State for Education Michael Gove will deplore. Even his own children will be disadvantaged by this proposed change.’
Labour’s education spokesperson Cllr Robert Atkinson added: ‘It beggars belief that Holland Park Academy initiated this consultation without informing Council members, but more importantly not even telling the head teachers of the local primary schools. This smacks of a conspiracy between the Academy and the Council leadership deliberately to exclude deprived and under-privileged children from the high quality education and facilities offered by Holland Park. It is quite disgraceful that the Tory Council expects the taxpayer to fund such an exclusive school.’
Firstly, I would like to point to the excellent and first rate OFSTED report that was published recently. I hope that the whole Council will join me in congratulating the school, its staff and community on such an excellent result – a result made more extraordinary because the intake of Holland Park School remains challenging. So this excellent result is something in which the school is entitled to take exceptional pride.
Secondly, I wish to note and regret the decision made last Thursday by the Governing Body to vote to explore the possibilities of becoming an Academy. I hope (but do not expect) that this council will join me in encouraging the school to refuse this totally unnecessary development.
The OFSTED report proves not only that a change in status at Holland Park is entirely unnecessary but that if it goes ahead it will be for entirely political reasons. I regret very much that tonight’s timetable does not allow us a wider debate on this matter but I do want you all to know that if our schools do now vote to become academies it will be only because: a) the Council’s political leadership has told them that they must do so and b) that our excellent and much valued education department is already being dismantled so that the schools have no choice but to go along with the Academy proposals.
If any of our schools now walk the plank to academy status it is only because Cllr Elizabeth Campbell is pushing them over the edge at sword point. And behind her stands her wicked and ambitious ‘Pirate captain’ Cllr Sir Merrick Cockell.
Finally, I want this Council to agree over the summer to assist the school in ensuring that public consultation on this proposal is conducted as widely and as extensively as possible. The lack of consultation with the students of this school is a disgrace and the four days’ notice given to parents is entirely inadequate and I believe leaves the decision open to Judicial Review [and should Judicial Review fail this will only prove that the rules on consultation with parents and the local community have been deliberately rigged so as to make them meaningless].
I often criticise this council for its own poor efforts to consult with and involve our residents. But even the Royal Borough could not make such a poor job of resident and community involvement.
Madam Mayor, I hope therefore that this Council will applaud the excellent OFSTED report and condemn the plot to force Holland Park School to become an Academy.