Snubbed school faces music and dances

Academy staff and pupils prosper after political rumpus over cash and an MP removing her son

staff at an academy from which Labour MP Karen Buck removed her son have broken their silence to say they are sick of being used as "a pawn in a political game".

The MP's decision to snub the Paddington academy in west London was seen as an embarrassing blow to the Government's already-controversial academies programme.

Teachers at the pound;31 million academy are riled by suggestions that the school - funded partly by the United Learning Trust, a Christian body - is "not fit for purpose". One of them, Cindy Rubinette, said: "I honestly believe we have the potential to be one of the best schools, not just in the city but in the country. But it won't happen overnight."

Her view might come as a surprise after damning statements about the academy in the press.

It was launched as a futuristic media and performing arts school to replace a three-site comprehensive. But delays meant its buildings were not ready for its opening in September, forcing it to use temporary accommodation in an abandoned building.

Reports of teachers being forced to clean and paint the school, as well as what pupils describe as an initial shortage of computers and textbooks, fuelled crisis rumours.

Ms Buck accused the Government of underestimating the investment needed.

She said the move posed "financial and managerial challenges, which I am not confident have been met".

Her son has now returned to the school pending a place elsewhere.

But now, three months after pupils learnt they would be at the site for the rest of the year, morale is high. More facilities have been arranged and families defend their school. "My children come home buzzing every night,"

said mother-of-two Melania Chaaban.

"I'm angry that a politician has taken her child out of this school. I don't feel she's given it a chance. The staff have a good sense of humour, they get great support and there is good communication."

One pupil, Nathaniel, said: "A school is not about the building, it's about teachers - and ours are inspiring." Pupils are adamant that behaviour has improved markedly since the days of North Westminster Community School, where they say it was hard to learn. It had below-average GCSE results and about a third of the pupils were refugees.

One pupil said: "I bunked lots, I didn't do coursework and there weren't really any consequences. Now I'm back in lessons because I like the teachers and feel more confident about the place."

There has been an influx of new teachers. A strict uniform policy is enforced and pupils are not allowed to wander off. The ban on science experiments, previously judged too risky, has been reversed and the new timetable has introduced advocacy sessions and community activities.

Teacher Campbell Fry said: "The kids seem more serious and prepared to learn. They take pride in themselves." And while no one is saying the building is ideal - it is shabby in places - staff describe sprucing it up as a "bonding experience", with pupils and teachers mucking in.

Ms Rubinette said: "There was no sense of us being forced to do it. We wanted to." The new site, near Maida Vale, is expected to be ready for September 2008.


Sponsor: United Learning Trust, a Christian charitable body involved with 13 existing and proposed academies Specialism: media and performing arts. Also business and enterprise Pupil numbers: 1,025 Ethnic mix: large proportion of Muslim and refugee pupils

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