City academy seeks to expel old school failings

You could be forgiven for thinking that the person who decided Willesden High School in north-west London should be the site of one of the Government's first city academies had an eye for mischief.

You could be forgiven for thinking that the person who decided Willesden High School in north-west London should be the site of one of the Government's first city academies had an eye for mischief.

For a start it was a "flagship" comprehensive in its day, praised by school inspectors for its work. Now it is the prototype for the death of the "bog standard" comprehensive.

Its first head was the firebrand leader of the National Union of Teachers, Max Morris, who was widely associated with a period of union militancy in the 1960s and 70s and who now derides Tony Blair and his education advisers as "ignoramuses". One of its teachers during the 1970s was Charles Clarke, the current Secretary of State of Education who is presiding over its baptism as a city academy and is, unsurprisingly, a staunch defender of the programme.

So, given the fuss, has city academy status been good for Willesden High? Has it been good for the borough of Brent as a whole? Do city academies live up to the Blair vision of "independent state schools"?

There is no doubt Willesden High had slumped from its flagship comprehensive status by the beginning of the 21st century. It was on Ofsted's list of failing schools, and was only taken off it two years before its demise.

When a new head, Frank Thomas - now head of the new Capital City Academy - there was a debate over whether it should close. In the year before closure only 49 parents opted for it as their first choice of school. It had 200 places to fill.

Now, a year on from gaining academy status, it is a specialist sports academy with £2m worth of sponsorship from the sports agent Frank Lowe, and £25m of capital funding from central government. The old school has been demolished and will become a sports field.

Mr Thomas, who is retiring this summer, can cite some immediate gains. He has introduced a longer school day, giving an extra three and a half hours per week of lessons. Teachers, too, work 80 hours a year more than at a non-academy state secondary schools, and are paid 6 per cent more.

Already, its status as a sports academy has led to improved facilities and performance in games by its pupils, 15 of whom now have their timetable tailor-made to meet their training needs. One, Ousman Cherry, 18, is a contender for a place at the Olympics.

Mr Thomas has introduced the feel of an independent school, with a house system and a new uniform policy - white for year 8 (13 and 14-year-olds), light blue for year 9 (14 and 15-year-olds) and a darker blue for 16-year-olds taking their GCSEs. In the sixth form they are asked to wear "appropriate attire" - meaning no jeans or trainers. Hayley Wall, aged 14, admits having initially disliked the idea of uniforms but now concedes that they "look good". The proof of the pudding, though, will be in exam results - and Mr Thomas is confident. Last year only 13 per cent of pupils obtained at least five A* to C grade passes. Next month he expects the figure to be around 30 per cent.

One of the criticisms of city academies has been the tag of "elitism". But there is no selection by aptitude or ability at Capital. "Our admissions system is based more on the model for Brent than any other school in the borough," said Mr Thomas. "After special cases [such as siblings], it's based on proximity to the school."

Critics argue that , spending so much on the academy deprives other schools of resources. But Mr Thomas counters that his facilities benefit nearby schools - some pupils come to Capital for sixth-form lessons, others use the sports facilities. And he is in no doubt that he can bring about change more quickly than under local authority control. In that sense the concept of an "independent state school" is working.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
University Edible Garden, Leeds – a sustainable garden in the centre of the university, passers-by can help themselves to the home-grown produce
news
Arts and Entertainment
There are no plans to replace R Kelly at the event
music
News
newsThis 8-year-old boy carried his disabled brother through a triathlon
Sport
The Manchester United team walk out ahead of the pre-season friendly between Manchester United and Inter Milan at FedExField
transfers
Life and Style
fashionHealth concerns and 'pornified' perceptions have made women more conscious at the beach
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Year 3 Welsh Teacher vacancy in Penarth

£110 - £120 per day + Travel Scheme and Free training: Randstad Education Card...

Male Behaviour Support Assistant vacancy in Penarth

£55 - £65 per day + Travel Scheme and Free Training: Randstad Education Cardif...

SEN Learning Support Assistant vacancy in Penarth

£55 - £65 per day + Travel Scheme and Free Training: Randstad Education Cardif...

Key stage 1 and 2 teachers required for the Vale of Glamorgan

£90 - £110 per day + Travel Scheme & Free Training: Randstad Education Cardiff...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

Feather dust-up

A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
Boris Johnson's war on diesel

Boris Johnson's war on diesel

11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
5 best waterproof cameras

Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

Louis van Gaal interview

Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
Will Gore: The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series

Will Gore: Outside Edge

The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series
The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz