Grenfell Truths: the outstanding community of the Kensington Aldridge Academy

by Dave Hill

From the cold ashes of Grenfell, some heart-warming news. The Kensington Aldridge Academy (KAA), a secondary school which opened right next to Grenfell Tower in 2014, has been graded “outstanding” by Ofsted inspectors and named secondary school of the year by the Times Educational Supplement (TES). It has also won a TES special services to education award for sustaining its important community role amid what the judges called “the most tragic and extraordinary of circumstances”.

The fire meant that the school’s students were relocated from its original building, not just once but twice in the space of four months. Four KAA pupils and one former pupil perished in the blaze and nearly 60 have had to be rehoused because of it. Exams were sat and lessons initially held at other schools while new temporary school buildings were constructed on an alternative site at remarkable speed.

Throughout all of this, the founding spirit of KAA appears to have survived and even thrived. “It’s one of the most amazing schools I’ve ever been in,” one of the children says. Its principal, David Benson, says the school drew strongly on its principles of “Citizenship, resilience and pulling together”.

This stirring and beautiful story has unfolded quietly against a backdrop of unbearable horror, loss and pain and, to my mind, serves as a valuable reminder that, as in any London neighbourhood, most of the activity that builds a sense of common purpose, of the possibility of individual progress and of mutual support goes on largely unnoticed by the wider world, and also by some of those who most vocally proclaim themselves representatives of the views and wishes of local people.

This is not the place to explore the point at length but, given the uncritical veneration some major media organisations have heaped on it since the fire, it seems relevant to point out that the Grenfell Action Group was founded in 2010 to prevent the Kensington Aldridge Academy being built. Indeed, the handful of agitators who comprise the group argued during what they termed their “resistance” to it that the school and its adjoining leisure centre would “completely alienate the resident community” and “primarily serve the interests and needs of the users of these institutions, to the exclusion and great detriment of the local community”.

In his brave and eloquent investigation of the fire and its aftermath for the London Review of Books, Andrew O’Hagan detected within North Kensington activist circles a hatred and suspicion of Kensington and Chelsea Council so intense that it made it impossible for some to regard anything the council ever did or proposed in their part of the borough as anything other than venal or corrupt. Large and somewhat debatable claims have been made for the predictive powers of the Grenfell Action Group. Maybe some of their concerns about tower’s refurbishment will turn out to have been be justified. But were they right about the Kensington Aldridge Academy?

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