It aint so...The Whitehall Park School story goes on.

David Barry's picture
 22
It has been a while since I blogged about the Whitehall Park Free School.

For those new to the story, apart from referring you to earlier postings on this site, the current position is this. Ashmount Primary School moved in January 2013 to a new building at Crouch Hill Park.

(And a very fine building too. See here for the architect's description of the project.)

This left behind a derelict building, and a disused school site on Hornsey Lane N19. Islington Council having assessed the need for school places in the area, and the need for housing, had proposed to use the land for social housing. They intended to sell the site to a housing association. This was expected to pay for a large part of the cost of the new school. However when Islington Council, relying on the recommendations of an independent Planning Inspector, applied to the Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, for permission to cease to use the old site for a school, permission was refused. Instead the site was requisitioned under the Academies Act 2018 without compensation to Islington Council, for use by a Free School.

The scene well set by this posting:

Despite a strong local campaign, and the unanimous objection of the Islington Schools Forum, Whitehall Park School went ahead and admitted its first reception children in September 2014 teaching them in portocabins on the old Ashmount site. The school is a third empty, with the number of children drawn from the vicinity of the school in the low teens. Other children were recruited from Barnet and Hackney and some from Muswell Hill in Haringey. Islington continues to have a surplus of places at reception this year boosted further by the vacant places at Whitehall Park School.

That only a small proportion of the children are drawn from the locality may explain why, while Ashmount School when it occupied that site was described by OFSTED as having

"More than two thirds of the pupils from minority ethnic communities."

The composition Whitehall Park School judging by the photos on its web site looks rather different.

Another difference between Whitehall Park School and its neighbouring schools, is the uniform. Whitehall Park School has a uniform which may be purchased through one supplier only and which costs a little over two hundred pounds a pupil.

The neighbouring schools use a "dress code" approach with a small number of logoed items, such as sweatshirts. The cost is between 25 and 30 pounds per child, and as the children have to be dressed anyway is not experienced by parents as extra expenditure.

And of course a further difference promoted by WPS is that, having seriously under recruited this year, they have smaller class sizes. As these are paid for with special grants WPS must be the most expensive state school per pupil in Islington. (They are paying a Headteacher's salary in addition to running two classes, for example, and paying for portocabin hire.) Moreover, as some of the vacancies at reception in Islington must be due to Whitehall Park School, there is a adverse financial impact on other schools, although this is an effect difficult to quantify. Obviously there may be readers from other LAs where they are struggling to get the funds to match demand for school places who may wonder why Islington is getting surplus places created.

As part of being a start up Free School Whitehall Park got special funding from the DfE to support the marketing of the school. A task which the Trust placed in the hands of Place Group Ltd, a profit making company which sells these services to proposers of Free Schools and Academies. The Trust will have found communication during the procurement process eased somewhat by the fact that the Trust consists of two members Bellevue Ltd and... Place Group Ltd. (This is of course another difference from Community schools who have no budget for marketing).

As part of the marketing of the school it was stated that Whitehall Park School would combine "the best of the private sector with the best of the public sector". It would really be quite interesting to have some details on this, as to what it actually MEANS but one thing now seems clear. The private sector principle of "let the buyer beware" is alive and well.

The following is a list of false claims made so far on behalf of Whitehall Park School. Its not exhaustive, and for example, I have not bothered with rhetorical (and actually party political claims being made on behalf of a registered charity ) to the effect that the school will automatically be better as not run by "Labour Islington."

1. Whitehall Park School described as "outstanding" before any OfSted inspection. (Ruled to be mis leading advertising by the Advertising Standards Agency).

2. Teachers at Whitehall Park School described as rated "outstanding" by OfSted in their former employment, when OfSted do not rate teachers.

3. Describing Whitehall Park School as "overwhelmed with applications" and "oversubscribed" earlier in the year, then more recently claiming at the start of term that there were only a handful of places vacant. Now known to have a third of its places vacant. The claim to be "overwhelmed with applications" was made before the funding agreement was signed.

4. Claiming that class sizes in Whitehall Park School would be significantly smaller than in Islington Schools (THIS year they will be) However as the PAN (Planned Admission Number) is 60 children, should they fully recruit this is untrue... Of course it may be that continued under recruitment is expected.

5. Claiming that Whitehall Park School ran its own admissions in the first year because it could not trust Islington admissions to handle them fairly, and it could provide a better service to parents than Islington admissions. In fact the decision not to be part of the pan London system was not Whitehall Park School's to make. The timetable for setting up Whitehall Park School was not congruent with being included in the pan London admissions system, which is what mattered. Whitehall Park School is in the pan London admissions system for admissions in 2015 and so applications from Islington residents go through Islington in the usual manner for state funded schools.

As to why a system described last year as unusable due to lack of trust in "socialist" Islington, restricting parents choice and providing a poor service to parents should now be acceptable, no comment has been made.

6. Claiming that Islington deliberately hampered applications to Whitehall Park by not including information about Whitehall Park School in the Islington admissions booklet. This (Islington's behaviour) is given as an explanation for the underenrolment now that it can no longer be denied. Of course it would not have been appropriate for Islington's admission booklet to carry information about schools not covered by Islington admissions but printing and distribution schedules did not allow it anyway. It is issued months in advance.

7. A related claim that Islington had an obligation to "market" Whitehall Park School in the same way as it "markets" Islington schools. A claim which does not take account of the fact that while WPS had a state funded budget for marketing itself, Islington Schools had, and have, no such budget. Islington's failure to "market" given as a further explanation for the under enrolment.

8. Claiming that Islington schools, being run by "socialist" Islington do not have parental involvement in the running of the school, unlike WPS. Recall this is being said to parents with no experience of the system as they are all new parents.

So they will not know about the active PTAs in Islington Schools or the regular elections of Parent Governors. Nor could they be expected to know that WPS Governing Body has a much smaller proportion of elected parent governors than an Islington GB has, nor that WPS Governors have no control over the budget, nor do they appoint the Head ,(or remove the Head, if required), nor do they elect the Chair of Governors. All powers central to the role of School Governing Bodies in conventional state schools. So fewer parent governors, on a Governing Body with much less power.

Where are the children to be taught?

Originally at the time of the Free School Consultation

9. The proposers assured us that the old School building could be refurbished quickly and at low cost enabling reception to be taught there from September 2015. Suggestions that portocabins might be needed were brushed aside as "scare mongering"

10. Later the tone then changed. It was clear, they pointed out, in the manner of someone making an unexpected discovery that if you looked at the old building that a lot of work would be needed and therefore it was quite possible that children would have to be taught in portocabins for a term or so. But anyway, (they said) modern portocabins are very good (which they are) and it was after the closing date for applications...

11. Then by July (well after the deadline for accepting places) it was announced that actually it would be better to demolish the old building and replace it with a new one. This would provide the children with a marvellous new building which would be ready by September 2015. So portocabins for the whole of the first school year then. Perhaps some concerns were starting to surface regarding time table slippage, because we were assured on the website that a project plan had been drawn up by "professionals", This set out an "entirely achievable timetable" in which planning permission would be submitted in early autumn, so the contractor could go on site in January 2015 and have the demolish and build ready eight months later. This notice no longer appears on the web site.

12. As of writing this post no planning application has yet been made, but the latest information on the web site is:

" The school will be 2072 m2 in size and we have been focusing on what are the clear priorities for school (for example we believe children learn best in large classrooms and we want to see this included in the design). We will provide more information on the draft ideas from the architects once we receive them and keep you informed on progress. The contractor is currently working on a detailed project plan for the design and build of the school, but is still working on the assumption that the new building will be handed over in September 2015 ready for the school to move in."

And there it rests, at least until after the deadline for applications for 2015 passes.....
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Comments

Barry Wise's picture
Thu, 18/12/2014 - 11:42

I read somewhere that Whitehall Park received 109 applications for its 56 places, which for a school not yet built, on a site yet to be demolished, and operating out of a Portacabin, doesn't seem too bad! I hear what you say, David, but you've got to admit that shows there must be SOME demand for the place.


Sarah's picture
Thu, 18/12/2014 - 12:19

As a free school does not have to be part of coordinated admissions in its first year parents can apply to it as well as expressing preferences for other local schools, including the most popular which may be their true first choice. So such statistics are not necessarily meaningful.

In a town with five school where five preferences can be named even the least popular school may be named by most applicants saying absolutely nothing about that schools real level of popularity.

David Barry's picture
Thu, 18/12/2014 - 16:16

My key point Barry was to point out that Whitehall park School, or to be more precise the promoters of Whitehall Park School made false claims regarding the demand for the school which are proved by the fact that the school is, in the event, a third empty AND only a handful of acceptances come from people living near the school. I went in to the claims they were making in detail, at the time, here

http://www.localschoolsnetwork.org.uk/2014/03/when-is-a-more-than-half-e...

The relevant para is this one

"Before the closing date Bellevue Place, the proposers, described applications as “flooding in”; after the closing date the proposers confirmed they had had “many more applications than we have places available” and subsequently the DfE described the school as “popular with parents” and the school’s reception year as “oversubscribed”.

This was before the funding agreement was signed. And it is reasonable to presume that a report from WPS as to how "well" it was doing was part of the decision.

A school that is truly "overwhelmed" by demand does not then end up a third empty.

David Barry's picture
Thu, 18/12/2014 - 16:22

Also, Barry your point about portocabins is relevant.

Parents were assured were first told the portocabins would not be needed, then that they would only be needed for a short time, then after the deadline for acceptances was passed it was conceded that a demolish and rebuild would have to happen, but this would mean a new building by 2015.

Parents visiting the school now are being told that their children will be in a new building next September, and they are being shown plans. Plans which have yet to be submitted for planning permission.

All the informed, professional, independent advice I have had is that this is no longer, if it ever was, an achievable timetable.

Barry Wise's picture
Thu, 18/12/2014 - 13:40

That's true enough, Sarah, but more than 40 parents actually did end up accepting offers from this school and sending their children there, so I don't think it so very far fetched of the promoters of this school to suggest that once they have a shiny, new architect-designed building in place, they'd expect to be in a position to receive 60.


David Barry's picture
Thu, 18/12/2014 - 15:52

Sarah,

It seems Barry does agree that what you say is, in general, true enough. The whole notion of "counting number of applications" is flawed. In fact the point was considered in detail by Janet Downs in this post:

http://www.localschoolsnetwork.org.uk/2013/05/oversubscription-is-touted...

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 18/12/2014 - 14:16

Barry - was a 'shiny, new' school actually needed in Islington? Islington Council projected a 'surplus of 304 primary school places across Islington by 2019, with demand levelling off from 2017 onwards'.

This Council estimated a 'small number of additional places' might be needed after 2017 but there was 'ample scope' to add or reintroduce places in existing schools. The Council also noted the 'most extreme shortfall' was projected for 2017 after which the situation would improve.

It would appear, then, there is no demand for extra primary places in Islington and the establishment of a free school with room for 400+ pupils is a waste of public money.


Barry Wise's picture
Thu, 18/12/2014 - 15:33

Janet

My position on this has been consistent: I do not believe that inner London boroughs should ever take land out of 'educational use' designation for housing purposes because there will ALWAYS be a need for new schools in the future. The population is certain to grow sometime and it is almost impossible - once land is sold - to buy anything suitable for a school site back later. Private developers will always get there first.

I also think that councils have tended to underestimate need in London. The document you link to is a good case in point. It was from 2011 and gave the impression that all was well in the garden - forecasting huge surpluses and saying that in the wards around the old Ashmount School "there will be sufficient capacity up until 2017".

But what happened next?

In real life, what actually happened in the following year in those wards was that there was a SHORTFALL of 17 Reception places and an increase of around 19% in Reception rolls. Borough wide, Islington had to create 3 bulge classes in September 2013 and a further 3 in 2014. It totally revised the projections you quoted in the light of experience. In place of the surplus of 304 places in 2019, Islington is now forecasting a deficit of 151 in that year.

Was Whitehall Park "needed"? I'm not sure, but it seems to me to do no real harm and could be quite useful to have around given that Islington's projected reception deficits are expected to go on for 14 years! I certainly can't see it is a clear-cut waste of public money.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 18/12/2014 - 15:42

Barry - thanks for the more up-to-date info. Have you got a link?

As for never taking school land out-of-use because it might be needed some time in the future - well, this may be the case in London but in more sparsely populated areas of the country it could tie up land which could be used for something else or sold.

Looking after empty property is expensive and wasteful. Better to use it for something else.

Barry Wise's picture
Thu, 18/12/2014 - 15:47

Janet

Sorry, I don't yet have a link as I took those figures off a password-protected site I use for work. I will google around a bit later to see if I can find one.

Barry Wise's picture
Thu, 18/12/2014 - 16:06

Janet

Try this:
http://www.islington.gov.uk/publicrecords/library/Education-and-skills/I...(2014-12-03)-School-Place-Planning-Report-2014.pdf

David Barry's picture
Thu, 18/12/2014 - 17:01

Barry thanks for finding that link to this year's islington place planning report.

The relevant part of it is the statement

"10.4.1

These roll projections estimate that primary schools in Planning Area 1 will not reach capacity until 2029/30."

Planning area 1 is of course the relevant one.

There are three points at stake here:-

1.When reading a schools place planning report be aware that it projects demand: A number of commentators then jump to the conclusion in my experience that where a report projects an excess of demand in the FUTURE over CURRENT supply this is predicting a shortage(in the future). It is not, of course. What it indicates is that action has to be taken to prevent a shortage happening. Before WPS arrived Islington had been doing so by re expanding schools which had contracted in size during the period of falling rolls.

2.The potential shortage of places that Islington is having to cope with, and spend money on is in the SOUTH of the Borough.

3. Because WPS is so close to the boundary with Haringey things are complicated by what the situation is there. This cuts both ways in that an Islington place planning report may underestimate actual demand for a school on the border, or, indeed overestimate.

For example WPS ran a big recruitment drive after the closing date in Muswell Hill, where Bellevue Ltd have a private school, Norfolk House. They were enabled to do this by a shortage of places, at least on offer day, in Muswell Hill. Haringey have taken action on this and increased supply by expanding sought after schools in the area. So whether this will be a good recruitment area in 2014 is not clear.

Demand in the Crouch End area has been just between flat and falling slowly for the last three years. (It is suggested that there is a tendency for families to stay in Crouch End longterm, and families may now be complete) if that trend continues then the Coleridge School radius will expand further and WPS will be going head to head with them for pupils. If Coleridge maintains its sought after status (which went as far as a special mention in Tatler!) the contest for children will be interesting.

So to conclude:

What IS clear is that this year WPS only recruited a handful of local children. Whether conditions in Barnet, Camden and Hackney other places they got children from will continue to feed children in the WPS direction remains to be seen.

But with all that they still ended up a third empty. Thanks to WPS there is now a big surplus of places in this area. Which Islington think will be there for the next 15 years.

Barry Wise's picture
Thu, 18/12/2014 - 19:45

David


What IS clear is that this year WPS only recruited a handful of local children. Whether conditions in Barnet, Camden and Hackney other places they got children from will continue to feed children in the WPS direction remains to be seen.

According to this FoI response, there's only 1 child from Barnet, 1 from Hackney, 0 from Camden and all the rest 39 or 40 of them - are local (Islington & Haringey). It could easily be the Barnet and Hackney ones were families planning to move into the area. I don't see any sign WPS are relying on out-of-towners. I think you might have a bit of a jaundiced view of this lot!

https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/information_regarding_admissions#...

Barry Wise's picture
Thu, 18/12/2014 - 19:48

</I> Hope this fixes the italics thing. Sorry.


Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 19/12/2014 - 09:11

Thanks Barry for the link and David for the commentary. I didn't know 'Planning Area 1' was the locality until David said.

Barry's document says: 'Planning Area 1 is not projected to have a deficit of places for some considerable time' (para 8.5). The figures from 'January DfE School Census 2009 to 2014' presumably didn't include pupils on roll at Whitehall Park because that didn't open until September 2014. Table 15 (which shows Planning Area 1 school rolls in 2012/13 and 2013/14 against capacity) does not include Whitehall Park either.

As Barry pointed out, Planning Area 1 schools are 'projected to have small surpluses through to 2029/30.'

But do the projections include Whitehall Park? It would appear they do. The fact that Whitehall Park was opening in Sept 2014 was noted later (para 10.6.1) and the council said 'Provision of 2 FE from this school has been built into the capacity for this planning area.' How much this contributes to the projected surpluses is unclear. And if Planning Area 1 would have been in deficit without Whitehall Park, could the projected deficit have been dealt with more cheaply by expanding existing schools?

An interesting side point is that new housing projections include development on the 'old Ashmount site'. But the entire site is not available for housing because of the establishment of Whitehall Park. Some of the playground will be used for housing but this would reduce the projected number of children (and the demand for future primary places).

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 18/12/2014 - 13:56

Yesterday, the High Court denied the Ashmount Site Action Group the Judicial Review the group had requested. The Action Group was disputing Islington Council's decision to use part of the playground of the old Ashmount School for housing. The Action Group wanted all of the playground given to Whitehall Park School.


David Barry's picture
Tue, 06/01/2015 - 19:14

Indeed Janet, there was an application for Judicial review of the Secretary of State's decision to divide the old Ashmount site between Whitehall Park School and Islington Council. ASAG were arguing that under government guidelines the whole site was needed for the school. Of course had they won the Judicial Review the long term beneficiaries could have been expected to be Bellevue Place Trust, as the extra space would have made the site hugely more valuable. It may be of interest to note:-

1.That ASAG has been in existence since 2009 and originally campaigned for Ashmount School not to be allowed to move. It consists of a small group of residents whose back garden fences border the old Ashmount site. They took the view that they preferred having a school at the bottom of their gardens rather than, what they knew the Council would favour, which is housing.

2.On their own account, it was they who alerted Bellevue Ltd to the possibilities of the Ashmount site

3. Also, on their own account, Bellevue Place is represented at their planning meetings.

4. Although ASAG regularly threatened legal action actions of various kinds against Islington Council, individual Islington Council officers and (full disclosure) myself and by doing so delayed the Ashmount move for at least two years, possibly more, these were all threats. No actions were ever issued which of course meant no costs incurred.

5. This application for JR has, on top of ASAG's on costs (unspecified), again by their own account cost them more than ten thousand pounds in terms of DFE and Islington's costs is therefore the first action they have actually taken and the first costs they have actually incurred. It would appear that actually having substantial resources to bring legal actions is a recent development on ASAG's part. Their explanation for this is that they obtain their funds by public subscription.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 18/12/2014 - 14:07

The decision to demolish the old school buildings was taken before July. Ofsted pre-registration inspection dated 20 June made it clear planning permission was being sought to demolish the old school. Ofsted wrote that two temporary classrooms and a multi-purpose building would be installed in July.


David Barry's picture
Wed, 14/01/2015 - 23:07

Janet excellent point: And very many thanks for the link. Having read it we can see that when the inspector called on the 20 th June and checked to see if the school would be properly accomodated he was told about their planned use of portocabins for a year, which he thought OK and he was also told:-

1."Planning permission is currently being submitted to demolish the existing buildings with the intention of erecting a brand new four-storey building."

Which does confirm that Bellevue Place Ltd knew they were going to use portocabins for the first year by the 20 th June, and presumably some weeks earlier, but they did not tell prospective parents whom they were recruiting at that time for the "last few remaining places" until July. It also contains the statement:

"Planning permission is currently being submitted to demolish..."

This is a demonstrably false statement made to OfSTED. Such an application has not yet been made, months on. Should there not be some kind of comeback for telling OFSTED untruths which OfSTED has then, in good faith, relied on, when deciding to pass the school?

Moreover the Inspector then says:

2. "In September 2014, phase two of the building programme is due to commence, and is likely to meet the regulations."

And of course, nothing of the sort has happened. so another ofSTED judgement based on a statement that has proved to be simply untrue.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 15/01/2015 - 12:12

David - I have expressed concerns in the past about Ofsted and pre-registering free schools. For example, it passed Al-Madinah as being ready to open yet the full inspection just over a year later found the school's procedures for ensuring pupils' safety didn't meet requirements. But Ofsted is supposed to check such things at pre-registering.

And some free schools, such as Kings Leadership Academy, Warrington, claimed they were 'outstanding' on the strength of a pre-registration inspection which is, of course, not the same as a full Ofsted inspection. But parents may not be aware of this if a free school claims it passed its first 'Ofsted' with flying colours.


David Barry's picture
Thu, 15/01/2015 - 19:13

Janet, to be fair to OfSted they seem to have to carry out a pre registration inspection before there is anything concrete (no pun intended) for them to see. Instead all they seem to be ab;le to do is to audit various assurances. Perhaps the inspector could be criticised for accepting the statement that "planning permission is currently being submitted..." without asking to see evidence that such planning permission HAD actually been applied for. after all, these days an estate agent could get into serious trouble for making the claim that planning permission was being applied for, when it was not. On the second point the Inspector's opinion that the proposed accomodation school was adequate was based on the twin umderstanding that the portocabins were:-

1. Being installed by the EFA in accordance with regs

AND

2. They were to be replaced pretty quickly by a new build with the building work starting September 2014. Now THAT timetable could only have been possible if planning permission HAD been lodged by 20 June and would have been tight enough at that, but anyway I can see why the Inspector accepted the assurance.

But it was not true.

The first statement was false at the time it was made. The second statement MIGHT have been made in hugely over optimistic and naive good faith by some one with no knowledge of building projects, but as ofSTED accepted it, and based the pre inspection "pass" on it, should they not be sent in for a second visit to see if they are still satisfied?

David Barry's picture
Mon, 16/03/2015 - 22:42

And in due course AFTER the deadline for applications had passed, yes, indeed there was a further announcement documented here:

http://www.localschoolsnetwork.org.uk/2015/01/whitehall-park-school-a-la... school

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