Hammersmith students reach for the stars

Hammersmith Academy school children are taking part in a scientific initiative designed by Noosphere – the philanthropic foundation founded by Russian philanthropist Yelena Baturina, in association with the Mayor’s Fund for London’s Discovery in a Week initiative.

Also supported by the Yelena Baturina’s BE Open Foundation, the initiative’s aim is introduce young people from across London to the fascinating world of astronomy. The Discovery in a Week projects bring together PHD astronomy students from the UCL’s Physics and Astronomy department to mentor secondary school pupils. London children will join those from Moscow and professional astronomers to discuss and exchange thoughts and ideas during weekly Skype conferences.

Currently children from six London schools – Hammersmith, Forest Gate Community School, Sanders, Mount Carmel, Lister Community College, UCL Academy – are not only enhancing their theoretical knowledge, but also making real astronomic discoveries by analysing pictures produced by a powerful telescope in Australia. By the end of the year 20 London schools will be taking part.

Discovery in a Week is a project that not just introduces young people to the fascinating world of astronomy, but by producing real scientific results gives them a rewarding educational experience that broadens their intellectual horizons, while fostering a keen interest in scientific research to last for years to come.

The stars discovered by children will be recorded in the International Variable Star Index, while the coordinates of the asteroids detected will be sent to the Minor Planet Center at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory. During the pilot launch of the programme only, the students at Hammersmith and UCL Academies identified 9 new variable stars in the Centaurus and Libra constellations. All the stars discovered are now officially named after their young discoverers.

The aim of Discovery in a Week is to continue to extend the scope of this initiative to a broader range of schools over the next few years, as well as create an international network of enthusiastic young observers and researchers by encouraging children from different countries to exchange their astronomical experience and ideas during regular conferences.

Yelena Baturina, Founder of Noosphere said:

“We are very excited that more and more schools join the ‘Discovery in a Week’ project. Over 10 years, we have implemented a variety of projects aimed at bringing people together, improving understanding and promoting freedom of thought. And we hope that looking at the sky will encourage younger generations to think globally, approach the world with an informed, open and universal perspective”.

The programme was made possible thanks to the Russian philanthropic foundation Noosphere in partnership with the Mayor’s Fund for London, and with support from the BE OPEN foundation. Since 2008, Noosphere has conducted its educational projects across schools in India, Israel, Bulgaria, Romania and Austria.

Victory! H&F Council introduces automatic registration for free school meals

A year ago I wrote about the problem of children eligible for free school meals but who haven’t registered for them. This means  these children risk going without a decent meal each day and also that their school misses out on up to £1,320 each year in Pupil Premium funding to support their education. A report chaired by the Labour MP Frank Field noted that councils could use their Housing Benefit records to provide automatic registration.

I wrote urging Hammersmith and Fulham Council to do this. Cllr Caroline ffiske pursued the matter via the Children and Education Policy and Accountability Committee. I chased it up. Then chased up again. Then chased it up again. There were frustrating bureaucratic delays, reservations about data sharing,  other priorities.

But I am delighted to say that automatic registration is now a reality.

The Council tells me this means that 217 pupils in 25 schools who had missed out have now been registered as a result. The extra funding for those schools as a result for the 2017/18 financial year will be £286,440.

Frank Field has written to me to say he is delighted at this “terrific news” and hopes that other local authorities will follow the example.

Performance tables for H&F schools

The numbers have now been crunched from the school exams last summer for the Department for Education performance tables. There is a lot of data for each school to consider.

For secondary schools the key measure is considered to be “Grade C or better in English & maths GCSEs”. The average for schools in Hammersmith and Fulham was 69.4 per cent, compared to 62.6 per cent nationally.

The top five secondary schools are:

  1. The London Oratory School
  2. Sacred Heart High School
  3. Lady Margaret School
  4. Fulham Cross Girls’ School and Language College
  5. West London Free School.

For primary schools the measure that gains most attention “is the number of pupils meeting the expected standard”. In our borough 61 per cent of children did so – compared to 53 per cent nationally.

The top five primary schools on that measure are:

  1. The London Oratory School
  2. St Stephen’s CofE Primary School
  3. Normand Croft Community School for Early Years and Primary Education
  4. Melcombe Primary School
  5. St Augustine’s RC Primary School

Labour councillor denounces the anti extremism Prevent strategy

de'athThe last Labour Government launched the Prevent strategy designed to combat Islamic extremism and violence. It aims to limit the risk of radicalisation of Muslims and the resulting terrorist threat.

The programme has continued under the Conservatives and has cross party support.

Hammersmith and Fulham Council says:

“We are fortunate to have dedicated tools available to support schools with this duty, and to help them tackle radicalisation and extremism.”

It adds:

“What is the Prevent Strategy?

Prevent is part of the Government’s counter-terrorism strategy and aims to stop people becoming terrorists or supporting terrorism. Prevent works at the pre-criminal stage by using early intervention to encourage individuals and communities to challenge extremist and terrorist ideology and behaviour.

The Prevent Strategy makes clear the important role that schools have to play in achieving these aims. It is an extension of the same safeguarding processes which the education sector already employs in order to effectively safeguard children from drugs, gang violence, alcohol abuse, and other forms of harm and crime.”

So it was disappointing that at the Council meeting on Wednesday evening one Labour councillor – Cllr Alan De’Ath – attacked the programme as “Islamophobic”. Of course he is entitled to attack Council policy – he is not a Cabinet member and thus not bound by collective responsibility. Constructive criticism is always welcome. But to undermine the Council’s work in this particular way was pretty irresponsible. His comment was absurd – the strategy involves boosting mainstream, moderate Muslim groups.

Ian Heggs, the Council’s Director for Schools emails me to confirm:

“We do indeed fully support and participate in the Prevent strategy.”

Not that De’Ath’s outburst was the worst of the evening. His fellow Fulham Broadway Labour councillor Ben Coleman made some astonishingly crass comments during a discussion on anti-semitism.

In a brave speech by Cllr Joe Carlebach about his personal experiences. “I know what it is like to stand outside a synagogue and have sharpened coins thrown at you,” he said.

Coleman’s speech immediately followed. He said: “Sometimes people in the Jewish community think they are the only Jew in the village.” For good measure he then said that concern about anti-semitism in the Labour Party were “overblown”. Really disgraceful.

To create what Theresa May wants, we need non-selective grammar schools for all

ffiskeCllr Caroline ffiske, a councillor for Avonmore and Brook Green Ward and Governor of the West London Free School, writes:

Theresa May has announced that existing grammar schools will be allowed to expand, new ones will be allowed to open, and existing non-selective schools will be allowed to become selective in some circumstances.  The government will publish a green paper setting out parameters and options.

We need to wait for the green paper to understand whether we can expect reform or revolution.  And of course there will be a battle to get any package through parliament.

Surely, though, the contradictions in Theresa May’s announcement are glaringly obvious to all.

She says:   “We are going to build a country that works for everyone, not just the privileged few.”  Ok – so “not just the privileged few” includes the vast majority of kids who won’t get into academically selective grammars.

She says “That is why I am announcing an ambitious package of education reforms to ensure that every child has the chance to go to a good school.”   So this means that all schools need to be good.

She says “A fundamental part of that is having schools that give every child the best start in life, regardless of their background.”  Okay, so these reforms are for every child, regardless of ability.

Hang on.  This is a policy announcement almost entirely focused on selection.   It focuses on providing a better education for the already more academically able!  According to The Times (Friday Sept 9),  under one option that will be explored, “only schools rated good or outstanding by Ofsted may be allowed to select”….   So the best schools will be allowed to turn away less academic pupils?  This doesn’t make any sense.

Surely, the unfairness of focusing better education opportunities on the already most academically-able is glaringly obvious to all.  What then is driving some Tory’s obsession with grammar schools?

I think we have a classic example of the tail wagging the dog.  It goes like this:

– Grammar schools have traditionally offered a very good education and get very good results.
– Therefore we need more of them.

– Grammar schools use academic selection
…Okay so we need academic selection.

Notice how the grammar school obsession tends to be 100% about the tail?  We just need more academic selection and by some mysterious process we will give every child the best start in life, including the vast majority who don’t get into grammars!

Shouldn’t we, instead, take a look at how grammar schools offer a good education?   And then make that as widely available as possible? Perhaps to all children?

So what is it that grammar schools do – and what should the Conservative Government really be trying to offer to all children?  The answer is at least two-fold.  Foremostly, grammar schools offer a challenging academically rigorous education.  Secondly, they have strong discipline and good behaviour.

Grammar schools offer a challenging academically rigorous education

Grammar schools tend to focus on a small set of core academic subjects and teach them rigorously, with extensive content, and high expectations around what the children will learn and retain.  Isn’t this what all children deserve? This has been the main focus of the Conservative’s education reform over the past few years.   At the school where I am a governor (West London Free School) this is the core of our ethos.  The refrain that the school has used is that we should teach pupils “the best that has been thought and said”.  If I had my way the school motto would be  “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants”.  Isn’t this rigorous academic focus the good bit about grammar schools, and the bit that we should make available to all parents and children who want it?

Grammar schools tend to have strong discipline and good behaviour

The vast majority of parents despair when children bring home stories of disruption and poor behaviour in the classroom.  They don’t like their children seeing rude or aggressive behaviour from other children. They don’t like to think of the disruption to learning if teachers are distracted and having to spend too much of their time managing behaviour.

Parents will try to keep their children “away” from such behaviour by choosing schools where they believe behaviour is good.  We all know about the parents who “adopt a faith” to get their children into faith schools.   If you think about it, particularly at primary level where academic results do not have much visibility, the popularity of faith schools is, in huge part, driven by parents’ desire for their children to be in a school with perceived good discipline and behaviour.  I am sure this is also a large part of the popularity of grammar schools. Parents perceive that teachers will be able to get on and teach – and their children will be able to focus on learning.

Perhaps, then, Theresa May’s reforms should refocus on the dog and drop the tail.  What if more schools adopt a grammar school ethos, but without the selection?  This would mean we have more schools which teach academic subjects to all pupils and ensure they are taught rigorously with pupils building up and retaining extensive knowledge.  And we would ensure that schools have the tools needed to ensure strong discipline and behaviour.

Theresa May said:   “I am announcing an ambitious package of education reforms to ensure that every child has the chance to go to a good school … that gives every child the best start in life … regardless of their background“.

I hope this is, indeed, where we end up.  In order to give every child the best start in life, regardless of their background, we need “grammar schools” for all who want them, with rigorous teaching as well as strong discipline and behaviour, but without academic selection.

Three Fulham primary schools come together as the Brightwells Academy Trust

brightwells-COLIn a bold move three primary schools in Fulham are breaking away form the local authority to form the Brightwells Academy Trust. The schools are Sulivan, Queen’s Manor and Fulham Primary. The trust will formally come into being on September 1st in time for the new school year.

Brightwells was the name of the manor house of John Tamworth, privy counsellor to Queen Elizabeth I. It covered about 20 acres including what is now Eel Brook Common and was later renamed Villa Carey and then replaced by a new building called Peterborough House and owned by the  built on the grounds of the Earl of Peterborough. The houses built on the site – in Bovingdon Road, Chiddingstone Street, Chipstead Street and Quarrendon Street- were designed by the famous J. Nichols and is named due to each property featuring a stone lion up on the gable.

Chiddingstone Street, Chipstead Street and Quarrendon Street.

brightwellsmanorWhile there won’t be extra money – the per pupil funding is the sames – but the schools believe they will be able to make savings: “”As part of a multi-academy trust, we may also achieve greater efficiencies through increased buying power and joint commissioning of services; such as school equipment, catering and cleaning.”

There will be greater autonomy and “there will be assimilations between the schools and opportunities for economies of scale.”

There will be new opportunities for competitive sports and shared expertise – for instance with speech therapy and family support services.

stone-lionFar from turning away from the local community it is hoped the new status will allow the development of new links with businesses and public services.

Teachers will be able to share ideas with joint INSET days.

There will be support for the new academy from the London Diocesan Board for Schools.

Queen’s Manor Primary School will continue to run the Special Needs Unit for pupils with moderate and severe learning difficulties. Fulham Primary School will continue to run the Unit at Queensmill for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

The pupils at the schools will be able to start the new term with particular pride as the new chapter begins.

For Hammersmith and Fulham it is the latest example of how we are leading the way with innovation, school independence and parental choice as the way to drive up standards.

Striking Hammersmith and Fulham teachers waving extremist placards

Most schools in Hammersmith and Fulham remained open today but there was some disruption due to a strike called by the National Union of Teachers.

The Schools Minister Nick Gibb says:

“The industrial action by the NUT is pointless but it is far from inconsequential – it disrupts children’s education, it inconveniences parents and it damages the profession’s reputation in the eyes of the public.

“But because of the dedication of the vast majority of teachers and head teachers, our analysis shows that seven out of eight schools are refusing to close.”

“Our school workforce is, and must remain, a respected profession suitable for the 21st century, but this action is seeking to take the profession back, in public perception, to the tired and dated disputes of the 20th century.”

Just 24.5 per cent of NUT members took part in the ballot – less than ten per cent of the total teacher workforce.

Hammersmith and Fulham Council has failed to condemn the strike action which is disrupting the education of some of the borough’s children – and causing problems and expense for many of their parents.

What was even more disappointing was to see striking teachers from the borough marching this morning waving placards from the Socialist Workers Party. This is a totalitarian organisation dedicated to the overthrow of Parliamentary democracy, individual liberty, the rule of law and free enterprise.

Nick Cohen has written:

“Anna Chen saw the misogyny up close. She stopped working as a comic and poet in the early 2000s to devote every waking hour slaving for the Socialist Alliance, Stop the War and other SWP front organisations. “Because the revolution comes first, human beings are just disposable,” she told me. “I was struck by how sexless and ugly the leading men in the SWP were. But they always had women. If you slept with one of them, they promoted you. It was as basic as that.”

Of course not all every teacher picking up a SWP placard will be a Communist. But for them to casually parade arounds the streets of London advertising this vile, extremist sect shows poor judgment.


A review of St Peter’s Estate by Jilly Paver

IMG_1170St Peter’s Estate

A history of St Peter’s Square and its neighbourhood

Jilly Paver

£7.50 if collected from St Peter Villas or £10 including postage and packing. Email st.peters-estate@btconnect.com

This is a slim volume, but it is packed with fascinating material about the development of this beautiful corner of Hammersmith.

The man responsible was George Scott who was born in 1780 and lived in a house at Lower Mall. In 1807 he married Hannah Lucy Stoe, the daughter of a market gardener, who brought with the marriage settlement £5,000 and a significant portion of land between King Street and the River. In 1812 they bought the Palingswick estate, including the Ravenscourt manor house and its grounds, for £15,000 and made it their home.

Then the 1820s and 1830s saw the building of the St Peter’s Estate – St Peter’s Square, Black Lion Lane, St Peter’s Villas, St Peter’s Road, St Peter’s Grove, Theresa Road, Theresa Mews, Beavor Lane and the part of Standish Road.

IMG_1171Sir William Bull, the Conservative MP for Hammersmith, wrote in his memoirs in 1922 , that as Scott had given the ground and “subscribed very liberally to the building of the Church, he secretly hoped that the Authorities would call the Church St George’s as a polite compliment to him. But he did not make his wishes known.”

How awkward. It just goes to show if you don’t ask you don’t get….

Incidentally, Sir William personally saved the garden in the middle of St Peter’s Square – buying it to prevent it from being built on. He took a considerable financial risk. But after some dithering, the Hammersmith Council bought the land from him, thus allowing the public open space we still enjoy today. It was not the last time that proposed overdevelopment was to be a source of local controversy.

It does sound as though Sir William was an MP with the right attitude to public service. He gave a fine speech in 1909 arguing that MPs should not be paid. One of his arguments being that we would then end up with councillors being paid. We would have “a very distinct class of professional politician” who went into Parliament for what he could make.

St Peter’s Square has been a cultural hub in various different ways over the years. We learn from this book that:

“In 1973 number 22 was sold to Island Records, which used it for offices and built a recording studio in the basement, nicknamed The Fallout Shelter. Here they recorded musicians such as Bob Marley, Cat Stevens, Jethro Tull, Dire Straits and Mark Knopfler.”

The poet and novelist Robert Graves lived at 35 St Peter’s Square. At that time the area had a bohemian reputation and was known as London’s “free love quarter”. Graves had ménage à trois with his first wife, the artist Nancy Nicholson and their four children, and his mistress, the American poet Laura Riding. My uncle Geoffrey lived there too. At one stage there was a supposed “double suicide” attempt. I was told this was a serious effort by Riding – who jumped out from the top floor and although she was seriously hurt, survived. It was more of a symbolic reflex by Graves – who took the precaution of running down a couple of flights of stairs first before making the gesture of jumping out of the first floor window and having a few minor cuts and bruises.

Naturally there is a chapter on public houses. Black Lion Lane was named after the Black Lion Pub (which opened in 1722). The pub already has skittles inside but Paver reports:

“There are current plans to reinstate the skittle alley in its original site in the garden.”

The Carpenter’s Arms opened in 1873. The Cross Keys pub, which opened in 1828, was named after the crossed keys – as in the keys to Heaven, the sign of St Peter.

There is also a chapter on schools. George Scott’s daughter, Hannah, endowed a girls school in St Peter’s Grove.  It opened in 1849 and is still going as a Church of England primary school for boys as well as girls.  Again, William Bull bought some land, at significant financial risk, to allow the school to expand. They eventually managed to pay him back.

IMG_1172Of course the A4 extension in the 1957 was a disaster for the community. As Paver says:

“The extension of the Great West Road through our area has been a change for the worse in many ways, not only because of the destruction of fine houses and gardens, the pollution and the noise, but it has effectively divided our neighbourhood from the riverside and families and friends from each other.”

A child’s poem protesting against it is reprinted. (“Thou vast and soulless ribbon of concrete/How many are the homes thous didst delete…”)

I am very keen to see the road tunnelised and the old street patterns and housing restored.

IMG_1173As someone who trudges around knocking on doors canvassing I was interested to hear where all the names of various streets and blocks of flats come from.

British Grove was named after the British and Foreign Schools Society. (Frederick Walton the inventor of Linoleum lived there and had an adjacent factory that churned out the squidgy floor covering.) Miller’s Court, down by the River, was on the site of Miller’s Bakery. Beavor Lane was named after a chap called Samuel Beavor who built a house there in 1757. Chambon Place was on the site of the Chambon Works, a French owned factory manufacturing printing presses that was apparently opened by General de Gaulle.

Standish Road was named (for no particular reason) after Myles Standish who was a military adviser to the pilgrims on the Mayflower. Samels Court, the three blocks in Black Lion Lane just south of the A4 built in 1967, were named after Bertie Samels – a confectioner who was Mayor of Hammersmith from 1926-31.

These are many more insights into the area – both poignant and entertaining. A must read for those lucky enough to live in the area – and even those that don’t.