Friday, October 1

Richmond Park Academy

I attend a presentation by the School Heads of five neighborhood primary schools. While our Burrough has some of the best state primaries, the secondary schools are dismal and most parents send their children to public (ie, private) schools in Southwest London. There are good options, too, like St Paul's and the Hampton School. Having attended Berkeley High School with 3,000 students I am all for state education. My best friends are from this time and also some of the most interesting: musicians, writers, architects, film makers, entrepreneurs .. all progressive. All liberal.

Twenty years ago the Sheen School a good secondary. When Labour came to power in '97, the rules changed and school funding went to "bums in seats" and the Sheen School recruited outside the Burrough to fill the classroom. Over time, it became crowded and worse, a holding place for the less desirabales from around London. Performance and interest fell while the best kids chose elsewhere. Today I often see the little ruffs with shirts untucked in menacing packs smoking cigarettes. Those are the girls. Motivated, competitive, mums who have nothing but the best ambitions for their precious dears do not give Sheen School a thought.

Last year Sheen School taken over by the council and rebranded "Richmond Park Academy" (an academy, I learn, allows the government to take over poor performing schools and dismiss the Head Teacher and disband the Board of Governors. In short, the council can take immediate action). Unusually, the Head Teacher remains while the academy status nets investment in new buildings, new teachers and committed focus; our Tory council is in line for the first time in 14 years with national politics which speeds change. And there is hope, real hope, for improvement. I see this in last night's presentations which are passionate. One mother notes (near tears) how Sheen School (now RPA) was thought a "disaster" but her daughter's first year a triumph - "she is loving it and comes home excited by her day." The challenge of a school re-boot is the community buy-in: success depends on the students and the best now sent to the publics. If our children went ensemble it could become "the best state secondary in Britain" given the quality of the primaries. It is a huge leap of faith. We (I !) want a great local state secondary. It would benefit the community and keep the kids close to home with their friends and sports and families. Eitan and we have a year to observe.

Eitan, over cereal: "It must be boring to be a shark."
Eitan: "All they do is eat fish."
Me: "I think it might be kind of cool .. they do not have much to worry about. Other then shark fin soup."
Eitan: "All they do is eat, sleep and swim. Just like Michael Phelps. That is his motto, you know."
Me: "I am glad you are thinking about these things."
Eitan: "Yeah. I guess so."