A FORMER top aide to Tony Blair has stepped into the bitter battle over the future of an iconic London school.
Matthew Taylor, the former head of the Downing Street policy unit, has offered to form a trust to run Pimlico school under the auspices of the RSA (Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce), of which he is chief executive.
It is one of five approaches made to Westminster council about turning the school into either a trust or an academy. Ark Education, one of Britain's biggest academy sponsors, has also expressed interest.
All are likely to face strong opposition from teachers and parents committed to keeping Pimlico a community school.
At a recent meeting, nearly 100 parents and teachers voted unanimously against the school becoming an academy. Padraic Finn, the secretary of Westminster NUT, said that teachers would view trust school proposals in the same way.
Sir Simon Milton, the leader of Westminster council, has already said that he wants the school to become an academy.
Pimlico has had a difficult recent history, having been put in special measures after Ofsted inspectors criticised its leadership and key stage 3 test results.
Since January the school has been run on a temporary basis by Jo Shuter, from nearby Quintin Kynaston school. She has a record of improving failing schools, but her approach has attracted criticism from some staff and parents.
Ms Shuter said in The TES that pupils regularly missed lessons and staff had abdicated responsibility.
Bridget Chapman, who teaches English as an additional language at Pimlico, said: "I was astonished. I feel privileged to work with such fantastic and dedicated teachers who are working in difficult circumstances."
Despite the criticisms, there is concern that Ms Shuter's return to her home school in September will create more problems for Pimlico, with Westminster council yet to find a permanent replacement.
Mr Taylor, a former governor at Pimlico, said the RSA could form a trust with the school on its own or in a federation with Quintin Kynaston school, which could help to create stability.
"I think that Jo is good news and it would be good for the continuity of the school to keep her there in some capacity," he said. "The offer of a trust is there, but only if stakeholders in the school are genuinely interested."
The RSA is also involved in the academies programme, with its first school, at Tipton in the West Midlands, due to open next year.
It is not providing money but is helping to set the curriculum and the school ethos.