Were parents properly consulted about the provider for a new state secondary school in Mortlake? As far as I can see, they were not. The Borough Council has prematurely chosen a provider that may not be suitable for the local area. This school is an exciting opportunity to improve local education. For the good of our children, need to get it right.
As a local parent, I am not satisfied with the process that has been followed, and I am not convinced that the chosen provider is the best fit for the area. This will be my family’s closest secondary school, but I am deeply concerned that it will not be the right one for us.
What happened? On 23rd April, in the closing days of the out-going Borough Council in Richmond, it was announced that a provider had been chosen for a brand-new state secondary school in Mortlake. The announcement was unexpected, because planning permission had not yet been granted for a school on the proposed site. It was surprising because no consultation with local parents appears to have happened before the provider was chosen.
This is a great pity, because the proposed Mortlake School is a fantastic opportunity to improve state secondary school provision in the Borough of Richmond. I have friends who have moved out of Richmond simply because they can’t find a state secondary school in the Borough that they are happy to send their children to. A high percentage of Richmond children end up in private education, but for many of us this is not an option.
The new Mortlake school site has huge potential. It is close to the river Thames, with access to a boathouse. It’s not far from Kew Gardens, the London Wetland Centre and the National Archives. The site is worth tens of millions and is being provided free of charge by the developers of the old Stag Brewery complex.
The Borough Council should have done everything in its powers to make sure that the best possible school is provided on this site. It should have consulted parents about what kind of school we want for our children. It should have run a public competition for school providers. It should have made a choice that plays to the strengths of the local area.
The mechanisms exist for such a public process in setting up a school. In fact, there is a Department for Education presumption that such a process should happen when a new school is set up. But such a process was not followed.
Instead, we have simply been told that the Aspirations Academies Trust, in association with the Quaglia Institute, will provide the school. The school will be named after Ian Livingstone, founder of the Games Workshop, who made a fortune out of Dungeons and Dragons.
The Department for Education had previously approved this school to be opened in East London, but “the school will be moving location due to a change in the future demand for secondary places in its original area.” I can see how this is very convenient for the Department for Education, and I can see how it saves the Borough of Richmond the trouble of going through a democratic process. But I can’t see how it is the best way to make a decision that will affect generations of children.
It may be that the Aspirations Academy Trust are the best providers for the Mortlake School. If so, they should come out top in a public competition.
Such a process would give the Aspirations Academy Trust an opportunity to reassure local parents that they have addressed concerns raised by a joint investigation by Channel 4’s Dispatches and The Observer in 2016.
This investigation found that “The chief executive of the Aspirations Academies Trust, which runs 12 schools, pays its chief executive and founder, Stewart Kenning, a total package of £225,000, while his wife, Paula Kenning, receives £175,000 as executive principal and founder.”
Channel 4 and The Observer also uncovered the expenses that the Trust undertakes in bringing over Dr Russell Quaglia from Florida several times a year. Dr Russell Quaglia is the founder of his eponymous Quaglia Institute. His ideas and insights seem to drive many of the educational strategies of the Aspirations Academy Trust. The Quaglia Institute websites states that: “Dr. Quaglia…founded the Aspirations Academies Trust, a sponsor of primary and secondary academies in England built on his aspirations research.”
It might be that a school built on Dr Russell Quaglia’s “aspirations research” is exactly what the children of the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames need. But it might not. We local parents need the opportunity to give the Aspirations Academy Trust a fair hearing, and also hear from other Multi-Academy Trusts who would like to put in a bid to provide the secondary school in Mortlake.
This is exactly what should happen under the Department for Education’s Free School Presumption. It this were followed in Mortlake, it would be an exciting opportunity to examine the varied choices of school providers and involve parents in the decision process.
I am writing to my newly elected Borough Councillors to ask them if this might happen. If you are a local resident, I would urge you to do the same. You can find their contact details here.
As with all posts on this website, this post does not represent the views of Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, or Queen Mary University of London.