Local parents should be consulted on the new Mortlake secondary school provider

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.

Developer’s image of the proposed new school in Mortlake

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.

Adam and Eve: lessons learned

This blog was first posted at Nature Ecology & Evolution Community on 14 April 2018

Preliminary conclusions about the possibility of a short, sharp human bottleneck

A few months ago I asked this community if modern genome science had tested an “Adam and Eve” hypothesis that the human lineage has passed through short, sharp bottleneck of two at some point in its history. While this question may sound bizarre to some, it is one that is often asked by those with a background in Abrahamic faiths. My post has therefore been taken up and discussed extensively on the Skeptical Zone and Biologos Forum over the past few months, as well as by various blogs.

The claim that genomic methods have been used to test and reject an “Adam and Eve” hypothesis was central to the recent book Adam and the Genome. My post, which critiqued the arguments made in that book, has received a broad level of explicit or tacit agreement in subsequent online discussions. More adequate ways of testing the hypothesis have been suggested, and preliminary results have been obtained.

Here I will share some of the lessons I have learned from these discussions and from further reading. These are somewhat tentative, and not all are based on published peer reviewed literature. In a short blog I cannot do not do full justice to all the contributions that have been made by various scientists within the online fora, so as far as possible I will try to provide direct links to the contributions of others.

Read More

Coalescence at bottlenecks

This is Part 1 of my response to Dr Dennis Venema’s second Biologos Blog “Adam, Eve and Population Genetics: A Reply to Dr. Richard Buggs (Part 2)”. Dr Venema was responding to my blog at Nature Ecology and Evolution Community about his book Adam and the Genome. Since Dr Venema’s Part 1 blog responding to me, a vigorous debate has been ongoing on the Biologos Forum here. This debate is now beginning to come to a conclusion, so I have a bit of time to respond to the Part 2 blog by Dennis, which branched out from the Forum debate. Here is Part 1 of my response.

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Response to Dennis Venema’s Blog “Adam, Eve and Population Genetics: A Reply to Dr. Richard Buggs (Part 1)”

This is my response to Dennis Venema’s Biologos blog that he posted after I published my email and blog at Nature Ecology and Evolution Community about his book Adam and the Genome. This text is also placed as a comment under Dr Venema’s blog post on the Biologos blog page.

Dear Dennis,

I am glad that we are now establishing a dialogue about the scientific credibility of a bottleneck of two at some point in the history of the human lineage. I am hoping that during the course of this discussion we will be able to examine in detail the claims that you make in chapter three of Adam and the Genome, and that you will respond to all the critiques and questions that I have raised in my email to you and my blog at Nature Ecology and Evolution Community.

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Responding to Felsenstein, Schaffner and Harshman at The Skeptical Zone

Here is the text of a comment I posted at The Skeptical Zone in response to comments by Joe Felsenstein, Steve Schaffner and John Harshman on my Nature Ecology and Evolution blog on human bottlenecks:

Thank you all for interacting with my Nature Ecology and Evolution Community blog, and thanks to Vincent Torley for posting here. Vincent kindly sent me a personal email pointing out this thread to me and asking me to specifically interact with comments made by Steve Schaffner and Joe Felsenstein. I will also comment on John Harshman’s comments as he is making the strongest case against a bottleneck of two, which was not mentioned explicitly by Dennis Venema in his book chapter. Read More

Marcus Wallenberg Prize 2017

This blog was first posted at Nature Ecology & Evolution Community on 31 October 2017

Last week in Stockholm the forest geneticist Prof. Ron Sederoff was awarded the Marcus Wallenberg Prize. Informally known as the “Nobel Prize for Forestry”, this two million Swedish Krona award is presented by the King of Sweden each year. It is the first time for a decade that the prize has gone to a biologist.

In the 1980s, Ron Sederoff realised that molecular genetics had the potential to transform research on trees. Read More

Adam and Eve: a tested hypothesis?

This blog was written for the Nature Ecology and Evolution Community where it is posted here.

Comments on a recent book chapter

Does genomic evidence make it scientifically impossible that the human lineage could have ever passed through a population bottleneck of just two individuals? This is a question I am asked semi-frequently by religious friends. With my current understanding of the genetic evidence, I can’t state categorically that it’s impossible. In this view, I find I differ from a recent book chapter on the topic. I’m writing this blog to run my thoughts past other biologists, and check I am not missing something. Read More

Email to Dennis Venema about human population bottlenecks

A few months ago, I was reading a new book by Dennis Venema and Scot McKnight entitled Adam and the Genome. I was surprised to find a claim within the book that the past effective population size of humans has definitely never dropped below 10,000 individuals and that this is a fact of comparable scientific certainty to heliocentrism. I emailed Dennis Venema, the biologist author of the book, to query this. Unfortunately, he has not yet responded. I therefore remain unconvinced that it is a scientific impossibility for human beings to have all descended from a single couple. If I am wrong, though, I would like to know. I therefore post my email here, in hopes of garnering responses to my objections. Read More