Are academies the answer to Tottenham's troubles?

7th October 2011 at 01:00
Post-riots, Haringey Council gets cosy with the Harris Federation

The fallout from the riots that tore through England's cities in the summer continues to be felt throughout the country. But nowhere more so than in Tottenham, north London, where the extraordinary events began.

Indeed, last month the multi-millionaire head of the Harris Federation of academies - carpet retail king Lord Harris - and the federation's chief executive, Daniel Moynihan, attended a previously unscheduled meeting with Haringey Council boss Claire Kober at her Wood Green offices to discuss turning Tottenham schools into academies.

The Carpetright founder and Tory peer, who is also a director of Arsenal football club, said he had only got to know the council leader in the wake of August's attacks. At their meeting, the pair discussed opening academies in the north London borough that hit the headlines when the death of local man Mark Duggan, who was shot by police, ignited three nights of rioting across the capital.

For Lord Harris, the situation is personal. Carpetright's store in Tottenham suffered a much-publicised attack in the riots and the burnt-out shell of the shop became an iconic image of the violence.

Previously, the area had been rather unenthusiastic about academies. Currently, Haringey has just a small number of converters, but Mr Moynihan said this may well be about to change. "It was an initial discussion about (the) Harris (Federation) and to see if we were interested in schools in north London. They were interested to hear about how our schools perform," he said.

A council spokeswoman confirmed that the local authority was keen to look at Lord Harris's work in the aftermath of the disturbances. "Councillor Kober met Lord Harris to discuss the work of his foundation, including academies, and how it might support our recovery efforts following the disturbances in Tottenham," she said.

News that the Harris Federation may be expanding into north London from its south London heartland comes as the 13-strong academy group prepares to make the highest-profile addition to its chain yet.

Chobham Academy, which has been built within the site of the Olympic Village by Australian building firm Lend Lease, will be run by the Harris Federation when it opens in two years' time. It will cater for 2,200 pupils aged three to 19, and will specialise in performing arts and English.

During the Olympic Games, the academy will be used as a security and organisation hub for the nearby village and will then be converted into a school for opening in September 2013. Once open, it will be renamed Lend Lease Harris Academy Chobham.

"We wanted to call it the Olympic Village Academy but weren't allowed to," said Lord Harris, whose fortune is estimated to be around #163;250 million. "It will be a very prestigious school because all the Olympic facilities are so close by."

And the group is also finalising details of adding a second primary to its portfolio. Chafford Hundred primary in West Thurrock, Essex, is set to join its sister school Harris Academy Chafford Hundred, which teaches 11 to 19-year-olds, as a Harris Federation-run school.

Lord Harris said the aim is to get 25 academies on the Harris Federation's books before it thinks about expanding further. "We want to get to 25, then revise it upwards," he said. "But we won't take on any more than that until all our existing academies are successful."

There will be many in Tottenham hoping that this success comes sooner rather than later.

OLYMPIC ACADEMY

The Harris Federation is considering teaming up with Australian construction firm Lend Lease for more academy projects in the future, Lord Harris has said.

Lend Lease, which built the Olympic Village, will be the major sponsor of the academy it has built on the Olympic site - the Lend Lease Harris Academy Chobham - but the board of governors will be staffed by people from the Harris Federation when it opens in September 2013.

"They were going to run it, but they realised they couldn't do it so they gave us the opportunity," Lord Harris said. "They want to do more schools and we're talking to them about that. They would build them and we would run them. We haven't finalised anything but the partnership (on Chobham) is going very well."

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