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Academies are always controversial, but sometimes they work

PUBLISHED: 11:04 20 March 2008 | UPDATED: 14:52 07 September 2010

IT IS an inescapable fact that when government inspectors deem that a school is in need of special measures , there is a great deal of culpability on the part of the local authority which has responsibility for educational standards. Yet in the case of P

IT IS an inescapable fact that when government inspectors deem that a school is in need of 'special measures', there is a great deal of culpability on the part of the local authority which has responsibility for educational standards.

Yet in the case of Pimlico Community School, many parents suspect collusion and conspiracy, believing that Westminster Council has allowed standards to slip so that it could eventually be taken off their hands by being turned into an academy, thus becoming someone else's problem.

While stranger things have happened within Westminster's corridors of power, the conspiracy theory stretches the imagination.

While one can fully understand the frustration of parents who, for various reasons want the school to remain as the 'genuine comprehensive', there is a place for academies in the new educational landscape of the 21st century and there are many examples of where they have undoubtedly improved standards and increased the educational achievements of their pupils, which after all is the most important thing.

A good example not a million miles away is at Greig City Academy in Hornsey where a 66 per cent increase has just been reported in the number of 13-year-olds reaching the required standards in key subjects, compared to the figures for 2004. The school, in dire straits until it was re-branded as an academy in 2002, was last month rated the fourth most improved secondary school in London and 17th in the country and while it still has a long way to go, the fact that it scored well above average in value-added provision was perhaps the most encouraging improvement of all.

No two schools start from the same point, or have the same problems, but this is an anxious time for Pimlico parents and it would be wrong to ignore the fact that although they are invariably introduced in controversial circumstances, academies are not necessarily bad news.

The damning yet philosophical attitude of a former governor, Ian Walsh, is worth dwelling on. ''I am not in principal a great fan of academies but considering the relationship the school and its ex-governors had with the local authority, I think an academy is sadly the best thing possible - because who wants to stay with Westminster Council?'' There's something to be said for that approach.


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