I last wrote about Highbury Grove School (HGS) in 2014: I quote 'The parents who chose HG back in 2011 and in successive years have continued to advocate for the school in the local community, helping to change opinions, assuage doubts and fears and challenge preconceptions....This is a school that is succeeding with all students regardless of level of attainment on entry - the kind of school we all wanted for our children. ...Parents now find themselves part of a much bigger project – to show the government that LA-run local schools are working and in Islington the evidence is that they are working brilliantly. Islington is a borough which has already achieved all the things that the government says it wants for schools – choice, excellence and innovation - in its existing schools.
The last 2 years have of course brought more government intervention and parents find themselves once again supporting Islington Council in its quest for oustanding borough-maintained schools. The long and short of it is that there is a new challenge to comprehensive education in the borough. The Government have purchased Ladbroke House, the former London Met University building in Highbury Barn, a stone's throw from both HGS and Highbury Fields School (HFS), for a staggering £33M. The Meller Educational Trust, who run a chain of academies and UTCs, are proposing to open a new school and sixth form on that site with a film specialism, bringing up to 1,000 pupils ages 11-18 from across London every day. They plan to build luxury flats on the site to help finance the school.
The Department for Education are not planning to consult the local community about this proposal, so Councillor Joe Calouri and a group of parents, Union representatives, headteachers and school governors have arranged an independent public consultation on the future of this significant site. The consultation will ask:
The Council has determined that the D of E are actually not disinterested in an alternative use for Ladbroke House (keyworker housing for teachers is proposed by the council). As a group we are concerned with promoting the best use for the site and matching the councils identification of need in the area, rather than 'fighting' a free school. The schools see this as an opportunity to improve school provision in the borough, for example by enabling teachers to live in the borough and stay in their jobs.
The Meller Trust are backed by the film production company Working Title and propose an academy with pupils recruited nodally from unspecified areas across London. It will specialise in film production and technology from 16-19. From 11-15 the curriculum will be 'story based' across all subjects. We don't know what this means but surmise it is a 'big idea'. The Meller Trust have met with both the council and the heads of HGS and HFS.
To put this in context, a borough primary William Tyndale (WY) is likely to get the green light to become a free school in order to add a four form entry secondary to its primary, making it a through school, despite not having a site and despite this not being identified as a need by the council. St Mary Magdelene (MM) will apply for same next year although it too hasn't identified a site.
Speaking as a parent, and I think I speak for all parents in the group working on this, I see the potential or perhaps likely addition of two or even three free schools to the borough, along with the presence of independent Northbridge House, as striking a blow at the heart of comprehensive education in Islington. The head of WT has spoken of her pupils 'having to leave the borough for secondary education'. They are not doing so to get a 'better' non-selective comprehensive education than is on offer in Islington, they are doing so to choose selective or independent schools. Highbury Grove will struggle to achieve a broad intake in such a context. Negative perceptions are hard to counter effectively, as we parents have found in our 6 years of involvement with HGS. Highbury Grove is already losing out in this sense to MM which has found a way out of its faith school status and a way to operate semi-selectively. St Aloysius is denied funding for capital improvements, in effect with the 'academise!' gun held to its head.
A public meeting will be held on the 5th December, 6.30pm at HFS. Representatives of the Meller Academy Trust, unions, schools, parents and local residents are invited.