Whitehall Park School: A lack of candour, a delay and a General Election.
Introduction I last blogged about Whitehall Park School here. I suggest you might like to read that post first, if you are new to this story. It does rather set the context; the promoters of Whitehall Park School, Bellevue Place Ltd are now showing an established pattern of behaviour. [Hint: "let the buyer beware"] I listed a number of marketing claims made by the proposers of Whitehall Park School school, which had turned out not to be true. I also pointed out that a number of different stories had been told about school premises. To begin with we were told the old Ashmount building would be refurbished at low cost enabling reception to be taught there from September 2015. And this was the version parents applying to the school last year, in January were given.
There was a story about it in the Evening Standard. Then we were told refurbishing would take a while so it was quite possible that children would have to be taught in portacabins for a term or so. But anyway, (they said) modern portacabins are very good (which they are) and it was after the closing date for applications… Then by July (well after the deadline for accepting places) it was announced (but we now know they knew this from the start of June see here) 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 portacabins for the whole of the first school year then. I ended by writing that as of making that post (16/12/14) no planning application had been made, but the latest information on the web site was: "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.”
The Current situation This notice is still the information about the new build on the web site. Prospective parents, as of last week, continued to receive categorical assurances from school staff that the school would be moving in to the new building in September 2015. As the closing date for applications is the 15 January, most parents have already applied by last weekend. (This year, unlike last, Whitehall Park School is part of the pan London admissions system) However they have just issued a newsletter to current parents in which they say the building will not be ready until January 2016. How much widely it has been distributed than that I do not know. Unlike other bulletins it is not displayed on the web site. This is the relevant paragraph: "....This now makes it impossible for the planning application to be submitted prior to the General Election in May 2015 and as a consequence it is now no longer possible that the school can move into the new building in September 2015. We are therefore now planning for the establishment of two further temporary buildings to provide the school with two year 1 classrooms. These are expected to remain on site for a term with the current plans to move into our new building in January 2016."
The (uncertain) future More important than the announced delay, which actually represents hugely optimistic timing, is their admission that planning permission cannot be obtained BEFORE the next election. This obviously creates a significant political risk for the project. Which is why, no doubt they did not tell prospective parents last week, and released the information in a limited way. Now here is the quote in context from the newsletter. Note expert use of "spin". EXTRACT FROM WPS NEWSLETTER STARTS "Building Update The last few months have seen a flurry of activity with regard to the design and development of the site. Following the first public consultation in November, the concept drawings were reviewed and then discussed with the local authority planners as part of a pre-application process. Following the comments received the drawings were again reviewed and a second public consultation organised. This second public consultation took place on 15th December and was very well received with further helpful and useful comments being received. The Education Funding Agency and Architect then met with the Islington Design Review Panel just before Christmas and they made a number of very helpful suggestions which has resulted in the need to redesign the school. The redesigned building now has the courtyard around the tree removed and realigns the building so that it runs parallel to Hornsey Lane. This has the effect of increasing still further the size of the playground and maximises the rooftop playground. Copies of the concept drawings will be available on the website as soon as possible. The new design provides, in our opinion, a more efficient and effective building, but this does now result in a further delay for the submission of our planning application with the revised drawings being considered by a further meeting of the Islington Design Review Panel in February. This now makes it impossible for the planning application to be submitted prior to the General Election in May 2015 and as a consequence it is now no longer possible that the school can move into the new building in September 2015. We are therefore now planning for the establishment of two further temporary buildings to provide the school with two year 1 classrooms. These are expected to remain on site for a term with the current plans to move into our new building in January 2016. We are obviously disappointed with the delay and were clearly looking forward to moving into the new school at the start of the new school year. However we believe that the short delay will result in the provision of a better building for our pupils and a school that meets the needs of a 21st Century curriculum.
Over the coming weeks, the Design and Build team will be finalising updated concept drawings and we will be hosting another Public consultation meeting. This will give you the opportunity to view the concept drawings and meet with the architect team to share your opinions and thoughts on our revised scheme. Please do keep an eye out for further updates over the next couple of weeks in our newsletter and website." EXTRACT FROM WPS NEWSLETTER ENDS So there we are. Consider this:- This is a stressful time for parents whose little children are due to start primary school this autumn. One of the schools parents will have been looking at is Whitehall Park School. (As it is in the Pan London admissions system this year it is listed in the Islington Admissions Brochure as the law requires.
By the way Islington Admissions is paid for by a levy on the other Islington schools. Whitehall Park School gets the service free of charge.) Parents visiting Whitehall Park School were assured that although the school at the moment consists of portacabins and limited facilities for children, by this Autumn the school would be in a "magnificent" new building on the site of the old Ashmount school, which would be demolished. So no portacabins for the little children joining the school this Autumn. NOW they announce in a newsletter with limited distribution, TOO LATE FOR PARENTS TO ALTER THEIR APPLICATIONS, that actually the building will not be ready. There will be a delay, at least until January 2016. (And implicitly, but not spelt out, that the decision whether to pay for a new building will be made by the new Government.) So instead of having their children educated in a new building they will be educated, for months, in portacabins, on a major building site. At best. Bellevue Place Ltd. must have known this for weeks. But chose not to say. Parents who have just applied to the school have the right to feel deceived. They deserve better treatment at a difficult time. As do their children. I should hasten to add that I do not accuse staff who misinformed parents of acting in bad faith. I believe they were likely misinformed themselves....