The ‘West End Extra’ reports;
“A PLAYGROUND is to be stripped from a primary school in Pimlico recently taken over by schools minister Lord Nash’s experimental academy chain.
City Hall bosses agreed to axe the site at Churchill Gardens Primary in August West End Extra can reveal, but parents and residents have not been consulted on the decision.
The outcome of a secret report agreed that the playground and another building on Lupus Street will be “released from educational purposes”.
Future Academies – founded by the venture capitalist and Tory peer Lord Nash – took over the school just days after the deal to close the playground was agreed.
The Department for Education must agree to any loss of school land and the former housing chief Cllr Jonathan Glanz and schools boss Danny Chalkley agreed they would write to the education secretary Michael Gove and ask for his permission.
The involvement of Lord Nash, a close ally of Mr Gove, has been questioned, as permission to dispose of a playground at the school run by his education charity will now be sought from the government department that he works in.
Laura Vogel, a primary teacher and former Pimlico resident, said it was “sickening” to learn that permission would have to come from Lord Nash’s own department.
She said: “The massive conflict of interest between Lord Nash and Future Academies should never have been allowed.”
Westminster Council disputed claims that the school would be losing a playground, insisting it would be “relocated or not moved at all” once they have gauged the opinion of residents.
Parents and teachers at Churchill Gardens Primary were said to be opposed to Future’s acquisition of the school earlier this year, which was described as a “hostile takeover”.
The possible conflict of interests heaps additional pressure on Future, which has come under sustained criticism after they appointed an unqualified 27-year-old to run their new school Pimlico Primary. Headteacher Annaliese Briggs walked out just four weeks after the school opened.
They have also been criticised for discarding the national curriculum in favour of a “knowledge-rich” system that has been compared with Victorian rote learning.
The academy chain now runs three of four primary schools in the area, leading to claims parents have little choice but to send their children to the experimental academies.
The decision was made as part of a wider plan to regenerate the Churchill Gardens estate and hand power to a group of residents called Team Churchill Gardens. But residents’ association chair Sue Walsh said she had heard nothing about the loss of the playground.
She said: “I haven’t heard a word about it and I live in the block opposite. I wouldn’t be surprised, to be honest, but they will have to consult us before they do anything.”
The headlines of the report, titled Churchill Gardens: Improving community facilities for local residents, were published on August 5 but the full report was kept secret and deemed to be “exempt from disclosure by virtue of the Local Government Act… in that it contains information relating to the financial or business affairs of any particular person”.
The report said that Cllr Chalkley would apply to Mr Gove for “consent to release the following from Education purposes: the ‘sunken site’, on the Lupus street frontage of the Churchill Gardens Primary School; and the old caretaker’s house on the Churchill Gardens Primary School site”.
On August 28 Mr Gove and an undisclosed representative of Future Academies signed a contract, seen by West End Extra, that handed control of Churchill Gardens Primary to the academy chain.
Leader of Westminster’s Labour group Paul Dimoldenberg said: “Before any land is sold off there needs to be full consultation with the local community. There are already severe concerns about the Nash Futures takeover of the area’s schools and it would be very damaging if this influence were to spread.”
A council spokesman described the application as “box-ticking” and said no decision about the future of the playground had been taken.
They said residents would be asked for their opinion before a decision is made, adding: “The simple answer is we don’t know until residents have decided.”
A Department for Education spokesman said they had not yet received an application from the council, but added: “We will only agree to the sale of school playing fields if the sports and curriculum needs of schools and their neighbouring schools can continue to be met.”
The first meeting between council officers and residents is due to take place on November 22 at the community hall in the Churchill Gardens estate.
Jo Saxton, the director of education at Future Academies, did not respond to requests by West End Extra for comment this week.