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by Stephen Moore
Tuesday, November 13, 2012
The worlds of politics and parkour rarely meet, but this week Justice Secretary Chris Grayling and two dozen eager school pupils found a level footing together.
Mr Grayling made a whistlestop visit to Westminster Academy on Monday, taking time in the drizzle to chat to students in its parkour park, the capital’s only purpose-built facility for the urban sport.
He was in the Harrow Road following the government’s announcement that the country’s 400 worst-performing primary schools are to be turned into academies.
The school has had its fortunes turned around since becoming an academy, and Mr Grayling dropped by to see how it supported students to achieve and stay out of trouble with extra-curricular activities.
Bringing in academies at primary school level remains a controversial move.
But both parkour enthusiasts and the Justice Secretary argued that their ideas didn’t need a leap of faith.
Mr Grayling told the Wood&Vale: “We are celebrating what the academies are already achieving. Academies have seen a steady increase in results across the sector.
“This is a great example of an academy school doing well. The results have improved rapidly and the atmosphere here is wonderful.
“It is about taking people beyond what they think they might be able to achieve.”
Sebastian Foucan, one of the founders of parkour, who starred in the opening sequence of Bond film Casino Royale and coaches parkour at the school, was also on hand to extoll its benefits.
“It is more than a sport; it is a lifestyle and an art,” he said, adding that it helps give youngsters focus and keeps them out of trouble.
“Before you grow up and get a job you are looking for who you are and trying to find yourself. The discpline [in parkour] is a good tool because it gives you a guideline and it reconnects you with your environment, which is very important because it can seem very depressing. It makes you feel like, not only am I alive but I can do something with myself. One discipline can change your life.”
Smita Bora, principal of the academy, said it was “unsurprising” the school was being championed by the secretary of state. She said: “In 2006 we had 17 per cent of pupils achieving five or more A*-C at GCSE including English and maths, and in 2012 it is 75 per cent. Yet the remarkable thing is our intake has not changed in the slightest.
“I would say that parkour is just one of the many, many opportunities we offer our children.”
When challenged that a parkour facility will be a pipe dream for most schools, academy or not, Mr Grayling said: “Every school will do it in a different way. What happens here with the parkour court might be a totally different thing than in another part of London or the country.
“I have come here not because of the parkour court but because it is a successful academy.”