PR firm relaunches Harman school

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The Independent Online
Harriet Harman's local comprehensive school has hired a public relations firm and changed its name to smarten up its image.

The former William Penn comprehensive in Dulwich, rejected by Labour's health spokeswoman in favour of a selective school 10 miles away, will be relaunched next week as Dulwich High School for Boys.

Its governors have paid an undisclosed sum to the Knightsbridge-based Shandwick Communications to oversee the reopening of the school. Southwark Council has paid pounds 80,000 for three new computer networks and a facelift of its buildings.

The school has endured 18 months of disastrous publicity. In April 1995 it was declared "failing" by the schools' inspection body, Ofsted. In January this year Ms Harman, who lives a mile away, announced that she was sending her son to Olave's School in Bromley.

Her decision caused a political furore, with Conservatives seizing the opportunity to denounce Labour for hypocrisy - the party's education spokesman, David Blunkett, had said there would be no more selective schools under a Labour government.

Ms Harman and her husband had already sent their elder son Harry to The Oratory, the grant maintained school attended by Tony Blair's son, Euan.

Last night Gordon Mott, Southwark's director of education and leisure, said the Harman affair had added to William Penn's problems.

"The school did not feel it assisted its cause, but it added to its determination to show the world that some parents make mistakes," he said.

"The key issue was ensuring that the kids there get the best education possible. We didn't want to change the name in the way that nuclear power stations change their name."

The school has about 500 pupils but was built for 1,000.

A spokeswoman for Shandwick Communications said the fact that the school had employed the firm showed its commitment to the relaunch. No one at the school was available for comment.