by Stephen Moore
Thursday, November 15, 2012
A troubled Westminster primary school is set to be the first to be taken under the wing of a leading secondary as it applies for academy status.
Wilberforce Primary, in Beethoven Street, Queen’s Park, looks likely to be included in the government’s first wave of 400 schools in the country to be converted into academy primaries.
It could be up and running by September.
If approved by the Department for Education, Wilberforce will be run by United Learning, the firm which oversees nearby Paddington Academy secondary school.
Wilberforce would directly employ all staff and receive funds straight from government, and would have greater freedom over what is taught.
Outstanding Ofsted rating
Under United Learning, Paddington Academy has raised its GCSE performance from 34 per cent of pupils attaining five or more A*-C GCSE grades including English and maths in 2009, to 75 per cent in 2012. It also boasts an outstanding Ofsted rating.
Wilberforce’s new headteacher, Coert Van Straaten, who started in September, would be working with Paddington Academy’s principal Oli Tomlinson, who would be its “executive principal”, providing staff with extra support, training and development.
Cllr Nickie Aiken, Westminster Council’s cabinet member for children, said she is optimistic that the future is looking “very bright” for the school, and hopes “Wilberforce can maximise the benefits of its working relationship with Paddington Academy and provide staff with additional support, training and development”.
But the news has not been universally welcomed. Zineb Serroukh, a parent with two children at the school, said: “I don’t think it necessarily takes academy status to achieve any of those things. The school was doing perfectly well in terms of the children’s emotional well-being and grades. I am not certain the claims they are making are credible at all.”
She added: “This seems to be a case of a Tory council imposing its government’s agenda.”
She said achievement at the school had not improved compared to its time under former head Angela Piddock, who retired in 2011, adding: “Angela was a huge loss to the school and there is now a very large number of parents who are similarly concerned about the school’s future.”
Wilberforce has been dogged by controversy since September 2011. Half of its teachers resigned in a single term after Michael Larkin was brought in as interim headteacher in September 2011, leading to parents launching a petition for his removal.
But school inspectors Ofsted and Westminster Council stood by him and his work – despite teachers’ claims they were working in a “climate of fear” and an independent investigator upholding allegations he bullied staff.
The chairman of governors reportedly resigned in disgust, and four teachers are pursuing employment tribunals for unfair dismissal.
Despite previous strong inspections, Ofsted put the school into special measures in May and Westminster removed the governing body and Mr Larkin.
Cllr Paul Dimoldenberg, Westminster Labour leader and ward councillor for the school, said: “The most important thing is for the pupils at Wilberforce school to get the very best education.
“The events of the past year or so have been very disruptive and unsettling for pupils, parents and staff and the council must bear some responsibility for this unsatisfactory state of affairs.
“I hope that the new way forward delivers high standards, motivated pupils and staff and satisfied parents.”