Whitehall Park School: A lack of candour, a delay and a General Election.

David Barry's picture
 21

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....

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Comments

agov's picture
Fri, 16/01/2015 - 10:45

The children deserve better. Not sure about this sympathy stuff for parents who seem to have opted for a pig in a poke.


David Barry's picture
Tue, 20/01/2015 - 18:11

Not all the parents deserve sympathy. But I think some do.

1. In the first year, intake Autumn 2014, it would seem there were at least a couple of parents who had bought into the idea on ideological grounds. At least there have been some posts from people claiming to be such parents on bulletin Boards including mumsnet and indeed, here. So no sympathy for them. If you take a party political position and get the favour of the party in power, well then you are left exposed should that party loose power.

Also

2. In the first year, 2014, you would expect most people to have been aware of the controversy surrounding the school. There had been some press coverage of it, moreover during the local election campaign, in the local ward at any rate see:-

http://www.localschoolsnetwork.org.uk/2014/05/all-politics-is-local-the-...

But

3. In the second year, this year, Whitehall Park School is in the pan London admissions system. Consequently full details of the school are printed in the Islington Admissions Booklet. A new parent ignorant of the school system until their first child was due to attend would not see any difference between the entry for Whitehall Park and any other state school in Islington. Moreover, if they visited the school they will have been told not to worry about the portocabins as there will be a new building by the time their children arrive this autumn. Parents are not used to the idea of a school being a business which markets itself on the basis of :

"let the buyer beware"

So indeed, I have sympathy for parents who have been deceived.

David Barry's picture
Mon, 02/02/2015 - 18:37

A story about the building delay and the way parents were left uniformed, has just appeared in the local press here:-

http://www.islingtongazette.co.uk/news/politics/building_delay_at_michae...

Louise D's picture
Thu, 12/02/2015 - 10:39

I read these threads and blogs with interest. Bellevue Place Trust has just arrived in Richmond. The DfE have secured an office site on a busy stretch of the A316 (red route, 40mph) next to a petrol station, in a congested residential area. The Trust is now actively marketing school places. Local residents in the adjoining residential area only found out about the school when we were sent flyers to invite us to send children there.

The marketing materials and the name of the school 'Deer Park School' suggest leafy surroundings not a busy junction on the A316 with no outside space (the playground will be on the roof apparently). The same materials fail to mention that they have no funding yet from the Department for Education and no planning permission for redevelopment of the site either, or any staff yet (they are advertising for a head teacher). They don't even have any temporary accommodation secured while they sort out a permanent site. But apparently they are opening in September.

The Bellevue Educational Trust were marketing a school in Twickenham until recently. They had to let all the parents and children down at the last minute when they failed to secure a suitable site as a supermarket bought it. Within the space of days they switched the marketing effort to the new site 2 miles away.

There are 3 other state primary schools (and numerous private ones) within 1.5km of the proposed new site so it seems odd to have another one so close, it is likely to make the even traffic worse as small kids will have to travel in from East Twickenham and other areas where there are no school spaces available close by.

Concerns of local residents about the suitability of the site and the impact on surrounding roads were pretty much dismissed by execs of the company that met with residents this week (during work hours, at short notice, so many could not come). An unfortunate way to engage with your potential new neighbours and build a long term community spirit.

We are all concerned about lack of school places, but it's a strange solution to build another school next to 3 others on a red route.

Your experience will no doubt inform our activities in the weeks and months ahead.

David Barry's picture
Fri, 20/02/2015 - 19:14

Louise D

Thank you for your supportive comments.

The "Deer Park School" case you describe does make a mockery of consultation procedures, even more than before, as it seems all you have to do is consult on one site and then "transfer" the outcome of this consultation to another.

However as you will see from the postings I wrote about "consultations" here, you really have not missed much.

The arrogant behaviour of Bellevue seems well entrenched. It seems to be based on the principle that as long as they have the ear of those in power they do not have to care about anyone else.

It has, indeed, worked well for them so far.

But let us not be defeatist.

You are now for warned, which we in Islington were not.

Keep up the pressure.

Its a simple point, but clearly one that needs repeating

BUILDING AT GREAT EXPENSE SCHOOLS THAT ARE NOT NEAR THE PEOPLE WHO NEED THEM DOES NOT MAKE SENSE

David Barry's picture
Fri, 27/02/2015 - 20:20

A (limited) update.

At a public meeting organised by the council, or to be exact, organised by our local councillors, to discuss issues of local relevance, it was mentioned that the Council now do not expect to receive an application for planning permission until June. Assuming all goes smoothly then permission will not be obtained until part way through September.

On the face of it thats already another months delay.

But I suppose the Secretary of Ste, whoever they are will have settled in by then, and ready to make decisions about where to spend the building budget.

Unless, of course, Prime Minister Farage has called a second, snap election to get an overall majority.

David Barry's picture
Fri, 13/03/2015 - 19:00

A further update.

There has been an intriguing development on the Whitehall Park School website. All their "building bulletins" in sequence numbered one to five have been taken down. Thats hardly surprising as obviously they are now out of date. Moreover they were effectively documenting for any person reading the site a history of rather optimistic statements regarding progress. Evidence in fact of persistent time table slippage..which is however carefully documented by me on this site.

Instead there is, with no fanfare a new building bulletin. Number 6. And this is the text.

TEXT STARTS


Building Update 6 – 5th March 2015
Posted on March 5, 2015 by Whitehall Park School

The design team presented to the Islington Design Review Panel in mid-February. The revised plans were reviewed positively with a small number of clear recommendations to make prior to submission of the planning application which is now scheduled to be submitted in mid-March, enabling the matter to be considered by the planning committee in their meeting in June 2015. Subject to planning permission being approved, the already appointed contractor is still advising us that the building will be complete and ready for occupation in January 2016. Subject to the approval of the planning committee it is proposed that the majority of the demolition of the former Ashmount Primary School should occur during the summer holidays with no disruption to the pupils. We will, of course, advise you if we hear anything to the contrary.

The application for the two temporary classrooms is planned to be submitted in March 2015 and, again subject to planning permission being approved, we would expect them to come onto site in July and to be completed during August ready for occupation in September.

TEXT ENDS

As of time of writing the planning application has not been made, but then I suppose its not "mid month" until next week. Given that it must surely count from Whitehall Park Schools point of view as really good news indicating much faster progress than expected it is strange they have not made more of it.

Could it be that their culture is moving away from over promising and under delivering?

But wait. They are still claiming they will have the new building by January 2016, so that bit of unrealistic timetabling untouched. Also they talk of an "appointed contractor". In advance of planning permission? can this really be?

I would welcome comments from people with more knowledge of procurement than I.

David Barry's picture
Mon, 20/04/2015 - 14:28

and another update:

On the 15 April they posted "Building bulleting no 7" on their website.

here it is:

WPS TEXT STARTS

Posted on April 15, 2015 by Whitehall Park School

The planning application for the new building was submitted last month. The application has been given an application reference of P2105/1089 and you can use this to view the application once the application has been validated.

Subject to planning permission being granted in the June planning committee we are still expecting to move into the new building in January 2016. The external multi-use games area (MUGA) is where the temporary classrooms for the year 1 pupils are being located and as such this area cannot be worked upon until we move into the new building and so this area will be completed a month later."

QUOTE ENDS

(SEE: http://www.whitehallparkschool.co.uk/building-update-7-2/)


Observations

Timing

Now, curiously, despite the claim that the planning application went in last month it has not yet been "validated" by Islington planning. The usual reason for a delay of this kind is that the Council planning officers are requesting additional information, or clarification of the application.

As the Planning committee meets on the (9th June 2015), and the agenda has to go out end of May, and the local residents must first have been given notice of the application and 21 days in which to respond to the application, the timetable for June is starting to look tight. But not yet unachievable. (Because of my experience with the Crouch Hill project, I really, really, do know how this feels)

Where are the Children going to be taught?

Well we learn a bit more about this. Pending the promised completion of the building in January 2016 we have already been told that another set of portocabins to hold what will now be two years, reception and first year. It seems there are to be new portocabins for year one, placed on the play area and

RIGHT BESIDE WHERE THE DEMOLITION OF THE OLD BUILDING IS TO TAKE PLACE....

David Barry's picture
Wed, 20/05/2015 - 17:05

Latest announcement from Whitehall Park School, in a newsletter to parents, sent out yesterday.

TEXT STARTS

Buildings Update

The Trust can confirm that the planning application for Whitehall Park School was submitted to the London Borough of Islington (LBI) on 13th March by our planning advisers. This was strictly in line with the original timescales provided to achieve the hand-over of the building in January. Since the application was submitted, due to various unforeseen circumstances, the authority has not yet been able to Validate the submitted planning application meaning that the process of determining the outcome cannot begin.

We are therefore waiting for the validation of our planning application by LBI and as soon as this is undertaken we will let you know. For reference the planning application is P2015/1089 and you will be able to review and support the planning application once it has been validated.

TEXT ENDS

"various unforeseen circumstances"

Hmmmm.

David Barry's picture
Sun, 24/05/2015 - 17:05

As Whitehall Park School do not respond to queries, I asked Islington Council about the dealy. They responded thus:

"Further to your queries, we can now confirm that it is unlikely that the planning decision for the new school on the site of the former Ashmount School will come to planning before September"

It would seem reasonable for a parent considering this school for their child to press Whitehall Park School to indicate what this means for their project plan.

It would seem that their original project plan allowed for "handover of the (new) building in January" on the basis of a planning application submitted on the 13 March. Had Islington been able to validate the application at once then it would have taken eight to tweleve weeks for the application to be approved assuming all went smoothly. So this implies that had planning permission been granted in June (an optimistic assumption, might well have been July) then they expected to do the demolition during the summer holidays (Good idea to do it then without children on site) and build the new school all in six months.

Was this ever a realistic timescale?

The new Ashmount School building, also a two form entry school, took two years and three months from the date the contract was signed to hand over. This also included a demolition but one that was on a much easier site.. On that basis January 2018 would now be a realistic hand over date, assuming planning permission is granted in September and the contract signed at once.

Three MORE years of intakes of children to be accomodated.....before they get their building.

Piotr Zak's picture
Sun, 15/03/2015 - 23:32

Not actually sure how intriguing this is, as there is no missing or removed content. It's all still there. Look for - SITE/BUILDING UPDATES - on the main page (upper righthand side) - can't miss it really, it takes you to the URL below.

http://www.whitehallparkschool.co.uk/site-updates/

David Barry's picture
Mon, 16/03/2015 - 18:46

@Piotr

What was intriguing was that their timetable for submitting a planning application was both suddenly advanced and yet they did not make a fan fare about it. It also does not match what the council believe to be the case.

Where I certainly accept, with thanks, your correction is that although I could not see the old content it is clearly still there, not taken down as I thought. Thanks also for giving us the link to the old content. Very handy.

Parent2's picture
Mon, 16/03/2015 - 18:56

David Barry's picture
Tue, 17/03/2015 - 23:32

@parent2 Thanks very much for this interesting link. Apart from the story the comments made on it are worth reading - all hostile to deer Park School.

The comment that particularly struck me was this one:

TEXT STARTS

Lipstickonapig says...

So… in summary…

1. Bellevue confidently said they were opening a site in East Twickenham, then failed to deliver. There is no school.

2. Bellevue confidently announce they have 60 places at the 'deer park' school on the A316 in 2015, prior to obtaining funding or planning permission, or a temporary site, then fail to deliver. There are now only 30 places.

3. Bellevue open and close a consultation to obtain funding, only disclosing HALF WAY THROUGH the consultation the location, making it impossible for the local community to input meaningfully into the process. For governance purposes, this is failing to deliver a meaningful consultation.

4. Bellevue are forced to keep on consulting about the 'deer park' school on the A316 Manor Road Junction by our local MP Zac Goldsmith, when locals express concerns about suitability of the site. They schedule the consultation meeting during a workday on a friday so anyone with a job or daytime commitments can't come or has to take leave. Especially when they seem to be able to manage evening meetings for marketing purposes with local nurseries. One could say that is failing to deliver.

6. The school is called the 'Deer Park' School. It is about a mile away from the deer park on the A316 at Manor Circus, at a busy and difficult junction. They are certainly not delivering the leafy idyll that the name 'Deer Park' suggests.

I wonder what else they will promise to do and then not deliver?

TEXT ENDS

Parent2's picture
Wed, 18/03/2015 - 15:41

The school didn't attract much publicity when it was proposed for East Twickenham and the council also included the original site in planning documents. But the site was sold to Lidl. Bellevue Place then rebranded its proposal for a different site in an area where there are three nearby schools. See recent letters to the local paper.

http://e-voice.org.uk/etwickschool/assets/documents/rtt-27-feb-15-letters

David Barry's picture
Tue, 24/03/2015 - 18:41

One of the other bellevue Place schools is

Braywick Court, in Maidenhead. Like Whitehall Park it has started off in temporary accomodation but has plans for a more permanent solution

Plans which may be read about here:

http://www.savebraywickpark.org/

The Website of a local group protesting against the school.....


David Barry's picture
Fri, 27/03/2015 - 15:52

There is a story in the "Islington Tribune" today about another school in Islington which reflects a more realistic timetable than the one being putforward by Bellevue Place for Whitehall Park school. It reads:-

"Finsbury primary school to double in size
Published: 27 March, 2015

PLANNING chiefs have approved proposals that will see Moreland Primary School, in Finsbury, demolished and rebuilt to double its current size.

The new building, due to open in September 2017, will have two-form entry – the school is currently one-form entry – and a children’s centre with provision for two-year-olds.

The plans are part of an Islington Council drive to provide school places in an area where there is a shortage."

For those who do not know the area, this is in the extreme south of the Borough.

Note that this project invoves demolishing a building and a rebuild (Like Whitehall Park School) slightly easier task as the old building is smaller, and unlike Whitehall Park School has now got planning permission. It is scheduled to be ready September 2017, but there is always the risk of a delay - on a project of this size a three month delay is not unusual, it is what happened with the new Ashmount School so it should be reliable to say that the children witll move into the new building by January 2018.

In the meantime Whitehall Park School, yet to get planning permission (!) is seeking to move into its new premises in January 2016..

Parent2's picture
Fri, 27/03/2015 - 16:27

It looks like the Deer Park Primary proposed for Richmond has already advertised jobs where it announced (in an attachment) that it has signed its funding agreement:

https://www.tes.co.uk/jobs/vacancy/assistant-headteacher-eyfs-lead-and-i...

BPET announced a headteacher appointment and posted job adverts for further staff the next working day following a consultation meeting where, it was reported, local residents expressed concern over the lack of warning and unsuitability of the location (two miles further away from the original proposed site, next to a roundabout on a busy road). Despite the school's intake already being reduced, it has extended its original applications deadline.

So (if true) the funding agreement must have been signed before this meeting unless it was over the weekend. How do you get to see the funding agreement or details of application numbers?

Janet Downs's picture
Sat, 28/03/2015 - 14:12

Parent2 - the Funding Agreement will be downloadable from the school's page in the DfE Schools Performance Tables. But that, of course, is after the school's been opened. The numbers enrolled will also be in the Table and available from Edubase. But, again, that's not until the school's opened.

I suspect there's has been a flurry of Funding Agreements and Academy Orders signed at the last possible moment before Parliament officially ends (30 March) and we enter the pre-election campaigning period when such Government business stops.

David Barry's picture
Mon, 03/08/2015 - 22:07

It has now been confirmed that the application for planning permission for the new Whitehall Park School is expected to be heard at the Islingon planning commttee meeting to be held in September 2015.


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