Fractious goings-on at Churchill Gardens primary in Westminster, where a charity set up by the academies minister, Lord Nash, with his wife, Caroline, has been in discussion with parents, staff and governors about it re-opening as a sponsored academy in September.
The school for three- to 11-year-olds has faced pressure since autumn 2011 from both the Department for Education and Conservative-controlled Westminster council to become an academy sponsored by the Future chain, following a “requires improvement” Ofsted verdict. But Churchill Gardens’ governing body voted against the plan in December.
Future sponsors the neighbouring Pimlico academy, a secondary rated “outstanding” by Ofsted, and will have three local primary schools if Churchill Gardens does transfer. Future has its own curriculum development centre, which focuses on a knowledge-, rather than skills-based, curriculum. Its work is influenced by ED Hirsch, the American academic whose ideas have influenced the national curriculum review.
But the governing body’s consultation in November found vociferous opposition among school staff to transferring. Of 45 responding, 35 were opposed, with only two in support. Only 44% of responding parents were in favour. Five out of six governors were opposed, with one “don’t know”.
A particular flashpoint seems to have been differing philosophies, with school staff committed to a “play-based” learning approach. Several questioned Future’s expertise in primary education. It recently appointed Annaliese Briggs, a former thinktank director only now receiving teacher training, to head the primary section of Pimlico academy.
Caroline Nash, a former stockbroker who founded Future’s curriculum centre, told a consultation meeting: “There needs to be improvement across the board, and play-based learning won’t deliver that.”
Detailed staff responses in the report, commissioned by Churchill Gardens governors and paid for by Westminster council, are often scathing. One says of Future’s plans: “Lack of knowledge of primary education, no vision, no curriculum, no structure, weak proposal, little understanding of primary teaching.”
However, Churchill Gardens’ governing body is now reconsidering its decision, it seems, with one source saying some feel there may be little option but to go ahead. The new school’s governing body would feature Lord and Lady Nash, with Lord Nash chairing and having the casting vote.
Future Academies and the curriculum centre said the “situation has moved on” from November’s consultation, with the majority of governors now backing Future’s sponsorship