The head who's prepared to take on England's most controversial academy

19th March 2010 at 00:00
Sylvia Jones appointed after five years of objections and two judicial reviews for London's UCL Academy

A controversial academy that faced two judicial reviews before it was allowed to go ahead has appointed its headteacher.

Sylvia Jones, head at Valentines High School in Redbridge, north-east London, will become head of the UCL Academy in Camden, north London in September.

The appointment follows nearly five years of controversy since University College London decided it wanted to become the first university to fully sponsor an academy.

In its planning stages, the project faced opposition from university staff, the community and anti-academy campaigners, and two judicial reviews were held before it could go ahead.

Concerns were raised that Camden Council failed to consider alternative sponsors put forward by parent groups, and that UCL had been unfairly favoured. But the legal challenges were not upheld.

Some academics feared they might be forced into helping out with the school, while teaching unions were worried the university would no longer help other schools in the area.

There were also concerns that UCL wanted to create a hothouse of potential undergraduates, and would not cater properly for the least able.

It is against this backdrop that Mrs Jones will take the helm at the school, after 25 years working in London and Essex comprehensives.

A high-flyer with the status of "National Leader of Education", her current school has been ranked "outstanding" in all categories by Ofsted. The sixth form is ranked in the country's top 5 per cent in the country.

Mrs Jones said she hoped that the disagreements surrounding the academy were now in the past.

She added that she had been drawn to the job because it was "unique".

"It is an opportunity to work with a world-class university and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me to help shape an academy from the very beginning," she said.

UCL's vice-provost Michael Worton said: "UCL is delighted to have made such a strong appointment to this crucial position, and we are looking forward enormously to working with Sylvia to implement our vision for the academy."

The UCL Academy in Swiss Cottage, London, will open to Year 7 pupils in 2011.

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