Education Jul 4 2010

Not so happy in ‘Nappy Valley’

Here is an interesting microcosm of the new education landscape – ‘Nappy Valley’ is an affluent enclave between Wandsworth and Clapham Common in South London. To give you an idea of the residential geography – an online search of house prices suggests not much change from £1million for a two bedroom house. Lots of those residents have young families, hence the name.

Some ‘Nappy Valley’ parents want a new secondary school to serve their relatively advantaged community. The last Labour government judged that there were already enough school places in their area and chose to focus the Building Schools for the Future budget on re-furbishing other local schools instead.

Undeterred, the ‘Nappy Valley’ parents, with the help of the (Conservative) local council, are now top of the queue for a new ‘free School’ to be funded by the new Coalition government from the soon to be axed BSF budget , which will effectively mean the other schools can wave goodbye to their investment.

Add to this mix, the Nappy Valley-ers also have a very oversubscribed local primary school, Belleville, which the local council wants to expand. Unfortunately its current parents aren’t keen on that, so the council plans to open an annex half a mile away, but give priority to the parents who live near Belleville, rather than the new site, effectively shutting local parents out from the new school.

However rival groups of parents are fighting back. One took a deputation to Wandsworth’s Council meeting last week to challenge the proposed admissions to the new primary annex. In spite of almost 500 objections the Council is going ahead and giving the Nappy Valley parents an outpost that will effectively lock out its local community.

And a debate is raging for and against the new ‘free’ secondary school (which may well have freedoms that other maintained schools don’t have depending on the passage of the current Academies Bill through Parliament)  on the ‘Nappy Valley’ website. Bloggers range from supporters of the new school to those who see injustice in the local plans and believe the Nappy Valley parents should support existing local schools, many of which are rapidly improving and would benefit from an influx of these more advantaged children.

Who’s right?  My own children went to a primary school that was failing and slumped to the bottom of our local league tables in the mid 1990s. Many parents removed their children from the school and for some time it was shunned by the better off local residents, a trend that is only now being reversed. We stayed, and along with other parents, fought to make the school what it is today, a thriving, popular, inclusive and diverse school. Our own children did well there, in spite of the early problems, and have also done well and been very happy in their local secondary schools.

So the arguments being aired in Nappy Valley are a refrain of those I have now heard over so many years; that parent must be allowed ‘choice’ and that those who prefer their local state school to more elitist and seemingly higher performing institutions are guilty of sacrificing their children on the altar of political correctness. One blogger on the Nappy Valley site questioned why their children should be used as ‘guinea pigs to drag underperforming schools up the OFSTED tables.’

On the other side in Nappy Valley, parents feel the debate is laced with ‘staggering nastiness and snobbishness.” That rings a bell too. I usually found parents to be unusually blunt about their prejudices. At various times I was told by neighbours they couldn’t use the same school our children attended because they would ‘end up with cockney accents’ , mix with children who didn’t have the same ‘manners’ or because other parents on the gate simply didn’t look posh enough.

One parent removed his children from the school because ‘they didn’t have intellectual equals in their class’. They were in reception. Race and class underpinned so many of the arguments and swayed individual parents choices even when the league table positions, value added and Ofsted judgments improved.

I suspect that in the next few years the not so happy Nappy Valley debate will be replicated across the country. As funding shrinks, and refurbishment of existing schools is halted, many parents will feel rightly indignant at new schools, which may not even be needed, catering to single interest groups, popping up in their areas, hoovering up funds which could be spent on their children.

With others I plan to start a campaign for parents who want to support local schools, rather than start their own, move house, put their children through extensive entry tests or subject them to long journeys. I know that it is possible for children to get a high quality education in their local schools but that we struggle in a hostile political and media environment to get that point across.

If you would like to join, and are happy to have your name published, please contact me via the comments below, or via e-mail at with your name, your school and local authority area and, if possible, a short statement about what your local school means to you and your family.

There are over 20,000 schools in this country, most with pupils who are thriving and whose parents are content. We have the numbers to fight back. Please join!

7 Responses to “Not so happy in ‘Nappy Valley’”

  1. […] before schools can opt for academy status; here’s info about another campaign in support of local schools, and here’s the DfE argumetn for and the anti-academies alliance argument against – for […]

  2. […] This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. ← Were Academies ever a good idea? An Academic question? Or one which requires consideration? […]

  3. FairAccess says:

    Fiona I was part of the local campaign which helped raise 479 objection to the Belleville expansion plan you mentioned above.

    Thank you for highlighting our campaign. The council formally passed the plan last night but we will be continuing to campaign for local children to havefair access to the site.

    Please forgive me but “rival groups of parents” is not the way I would like to paint where things are now.
    I think there is a good case to be made that at least some (if sadly not all) of the admission to the Forthbridge site should come from local children.
    I think this could embed the site in the local community rather than it just becoming an isolated “annexe” that will end-up being resented by those living near it after a year of building work and then even more so for dramatically increasing traffic around it.
    I think ALL good schools share a strong connection to their local community and as I can tell from your articles I am sure you agree.
    Belleville itself is an outstanding school and a stunning example of such.
    I want to present this argument to current and future parents of Belleville and discuss it with them. I hope they will listen and would love to hear their views on it too.

  4. baronessquorn says:

    Hello Fiona,
    I am so glad that you have posted this.
    My son attends a secondary school which is 0.7 miles from the gates of Honeywell School, which is one of the primary schools at the heart of the NSC campaign in Nappy Valley.
    My son's school has an outstanding OFSTED, a fantastic head teacher, great staff and very respectable exam results; 76% of pupils achieve 5+ A – C, 15% of these results are at grade A/A+. The school is in the top ten schools in Britain for it's CVA scores and is a specialist arts college, with an emphasis on art and modern languages.
    The school also has a large percentage of ethnic minorities, children receiving free school meals etc.
    Therefore, it has never really had the support of white middle class families.
    The NSC like to claim that they cannot get into my son's school, due to being out of the catchment area. This is simply not true! Many of my son's fellow pupils come from Battersea, simply not the middle class enclave of Nappy Valley.
    There are children at my son's school who live in Mitcham, Stockwell, Crystal Palace etc all of which are well out of any perceived catchment area.
    There is no history of the Nappy Valley set even applying to the school in question, let alone being turned down on the grounds of distance!
    The NSC declared their intention to start their campaign on the Nappy Valley Net website. Nappy Valley Net have some very interesting insider information on the two primary schools which are set to benefit from the new free school;
    It is quite clear to me that The NSC campaign is driven by the desire for a private school via the back door and motivated by issues around race and class.
    I have previously debated this issue online with Jon De Maria, who is the man behind the NSC. Despite repeated requests from myself to explain why the Nappy Valley set have never supported their local secondary state schools, he was unwilling to give me a straight answer;
    I am sorry for the lengthy post, but I feel extremely strongly about this issue, not least because the BSF funds for my son's school, were frozen yesterday. Given that the local Tory council have given the NSC their full support and the NSC are require £30 million to make their school a reality, I am concerned as to where the money will be coming from.


  5. MHoulbrook says:


    I read with disappointment Michael Gove's decision to cut the BSF investment promised to many schools in England. At a time when schools are in urgent need of upgrading and replacing, the funding, under Gove's poor leadership and judgement, has been withdrawn. This decision is totally unacceptable and without foundation. Good community schools are in urgent need of repair and upgrading.

    Like many parent governors they have a duty to serve the best interests of parents, students and communities in which the school serves. I believe this decision to be a very serious matter and urge Gove to have the courage of his convictions and apologise in person to all schools, students, parents, staff and the community as whole affected by this rash decision and explain his version of events, with immediate effect.

    I have a particular dilemma with the New Labour policy on education and the current labour leadership debate. It is unclear whether any candidate fully supports comprehensive education or a continuation of Blairs doctrine on Academies. Having observed a Yorkshire candidate recently at a hustings the topic of education appeared to be very low key.

    The leadership candidates have to make a decision between the right and the good. The debate on whether the state should remain neutral in schools and allow them to compete and have the right to pursue whatever notion of the good that schools (sponsors) have, with particularly reference to sponsors of Academies. Blairs communitarian ideal argues in theory (but not in practice) that this is not possible. Communitarians a major strand of New Labour, ague that it is in fact just for the state to show a favouritism towards groups, quango's and certain activities when it suits. Will any Labour candidate define what is their priority, individual 'rights' or the community 'good'

    If Rawlsian justice is relative to individual rights and the distribution of those rights, if that same justice is appllied to the shared values and communal understandings of any given community (including carpet / car salesman schools) and those values are discrimatory or even repressive perhaps alien to the community it serves, then how can the community or school criticise the rights of the pupils and parents. The community whose values who are also contradictory and discrimatory to the values of the school cannot and/are not given the power to criticise the discriminative values and ethos of the school. The problem is worsened when admissions by stealth in Academies allow other pupils who reside in different communities to be taught in their school. Fragmenation of community will then exist thus destroying the very notion of Blairs communitarian ideal. This conflict of values and policy epitomises what is wrong with Labour policy

    Therefore a conflict resides over the state and community. Relate this to New Labour education policy the academy doctrine is doomed to failure. Community schools should be representative of the community and free from centralised government control Academies. LA should encourage schools to be free, under their control and only step in when absolutely neccesary. The Academies programme therefore must be scrapped to allow local community and/or LA to intervene in to the running of godd community schools


    I hope this makes sense Fiona

  6. fairaccesstolocalschool says:

    I live adjacent to the site which is to be the annex to Belleville. No-one living near to this annex will be able to send their children to this school becaue the catchment is to be determined by distance to the main building which is, according to AA online a mile away. There are still fplaces at two other schools as of today. One is 0.9 miles away (nearer!) and the other 1.3 miles away (both from Belleville main site). The truth is that these schools are not favoured by the parents in this wealthy enclave.

    The consultation does not appear to have been sincere . People were talking about being offered places at the new site before the consultation was even completed, let alone a vote taken.
    The plans disadvantage people in the immediate area of the new site. There are children in local authority housing who might be able to choose the school if the catchment was from the new site. In effect, Wandsworth has ringfenced a chi-chi school for a wealty enclave which is predominantly white and middle/upper class to the detriment of those who are not so advantaged. What is the logical extension of this, especially in the new academies. Where is the next site going to be? Where does it end? This policy is not diverse and does not promote equality.

    I am not a parent with school age children but I understand that those who have children age 2 or over can object to Schools Adjudicator but that objection requires to be lodged by 31 July this year for 2011 places. I would urge parents to do this.

    From an education standpoint, it would create the biggest primary school in the UK and not even all on one site. There is very little support for this being good for the education of the children. It is also detrimental to the community of those living near to the new site.

    I do hope common sense prevails and the council reverses this perverse decision.

  7. Dr Maria La Falce says:

    My daughter attends the local Comprehensive, Copthall School, which is one of the many schools negatively affected by Michael Gove's plans to withdraw funds for the Building Schools for the Future project. In Barnet, where we live, there are just a limited number of Comprehensive schools battling it out against an ever increasing number of faith-based, private, foundation, academies and other types of schools with 'outstanding' results based on their selection process. I am tired of listening to parents, politicians and many others unjustly criticise the local comprehensives, which against all odds are doing a remarkable job. I am tired of being a lonely voice fighting against a sea of criticism and I will be happy to join the campaign and to lobby Parliament on Monday 19th July. I hope many other parents like myself will join me to fight the cuts and to promote the excellent work which is done in Comprehensives by highly-motivated teachers and heads.

    Maria La Falce (Dr)
    Copthall School

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