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.....