Friday, 30 July 2010


We were told on Thursday afternoon by our Project Lead in the Department for Education that Michael Gove and his ministers will not now come to a decision on our Academy new-build until Wednesday or Thursday of next week. This will be nearly a month after his announcement.

Also from what we can piece together the complexity of trying to cut back on major capital projects, some of which such as ours were weeks away from going live, is inevitably stirring up a hornets' nest of legal and other problems that the Department of Education seemingly failed to spot when it started the process.

I cannot yet reveal our possible strategies, principally because we do not know what the decision about our new-build will be. What we are quite clear about is that we have a contract with the Government - it is called a Funding Agreement - and it clearly says we will get new buildings.

Times are hard but to cut back on contracts just about to start is not the brightest idea, especially if the buildings that are going to be replaced are completely clapped out and particularly if a community has been promised new school buildings after years of putting up with second-rate ones.

This is turning into a real cliff-hanger. We plan to open on 7 September.

To be continued.

Wednesday, 28 July 2010


About a fortnight ago in an earlier post I mentioned that Michael Gove, Secretatary of State for Education, on 6 July had called in 'for discussion' the new-build element of Drapers' Academy. This was along with 130 similar projects.

We were very disappointed at this sudden change in direction. This particularly as we are within a few weeks of sign off following two years of work and very considerable expenditure: about £3million of taxpayers' money according to our calculations. And there is also about a million pounds of preparatory work in hand, some of which has been put on hold and some that is going ahead.

On 12 July we were asked to produce answers to a questionnaire produced at short notice by the Department of Education. This required a huge amount of work. It was essentially in two parts.

The first was to justify numbers who might attend the Academy and show how we were planning to double numbers and attract a sixth form within four years.

The second was to demonstrate why the existing buildings are just not up to the job. London Borough of Havering played a blinder and commissioned Jacobs to produce a condition survey at great speed. It confirmed our worst (or is it best?) fears that the buildings are virtually worn out and that a refurbishment option would be poor value for money.

We of course backed this up with our conviction that a new school was central to achieving the exceptional vision we have for the Academy.

The Academy team pulled together very well and in particular the support from London Borough of Havering was pivotal in getting a very strong case together.

We got the questionnaire back by Friday. Since then our response, along with many others, is wending its way through the Whitehall labyrinth and nearly two weeks after submission no decision has yet been made. The new term is getting close so it is quite a strain on the staff of the new Academy headed up by the Principal (designate), Matthew Slater.

We hope that Michael Gove's decision, when it comes, will uphold our case. We remain absolutely convinced that we can only meet our vision of changing educational opportunity with new buildings and that Harold Hill families deserve a better deal.

Readers of the blog will be kept updated.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010


My first event outside the Hall as Master is the Worshipful Company of Founders'Court Dinner at their charming Hall next door to the church of St Bartholomew the Great, West Smithfield. By tradition - probably a decade old by now - the Master Draper responds on behalf of the guests in thanking the Master and Company for the evening.

The Founders' Company as its name implies was the livery company that cast metal and, as a consequence played a part in creating accurate weights and measures. Today it is still linked to its roots but has branched out cover other metallic areas. For more details go to

Dr Tom Rollason, Master Founder, was a most generous host and I was also well looked after by Past Master Ronnie Sichel. As chance would have it I met him for the first time a couple of weeks before as he lives not far from our house in Wiltshire.

I include two parts of my speech of thanks in this blog. The first is entirely self-indulgent. Through the New Scientist I have become acquainted with the one liners centred round things from the world of physics entering a hypothetcal bar. I am also grateful to Brian Malow for these ideas (see him on You Tube for much of this material and a lot else besides).

The second is a couple of slightly more serious points about the value and commitment of the livery companies in the life of the City.

'I am delighted to be with a group tonight that I am certain includes a very good sprinkling of people who understand science but who may not have heard of the Physics Bar were strange visitors drop in:

A neutron walks into the Physics Bar, and after ordering his drink notices he has no bill to pay. He asks why. ‘For you,’ says the barman ‘It’s no charge.’

Or the Infectious Disease that walks into the same bar. The bartender says he doesn’t serve infectious diseases. As he leaves the infectious disease says, ‘You are not a very good host.’

Or a piece of technology that I am sure is of interest to many Founders

A room temperature superconductor walks into a bar. 'We don’t serve any room temperature superconductors in this bar,' says the perpetually curmudgeonly barman. The room temperature superconductor puts up no resistance

An infra-red photon walks into a bar and says, 'Is it hot here tonight or is it just me?'

A neutrino walks into a bar and doesn’t get served as he is just passing through.

(At this point John Campbell, Professor Emeritus of Casting Technology at the University of Birminghan declared this was the first neutrino joke he had ever heard at a court dinner in the City. If this is a record I am proud to have set it. I am sure other sub-atomic particles will now follow!)

And now the one that always turns up late.

Shrodinger’s cat walks into a bar: and doesn’t.

But on the subject of physical laws I think there are couple that apply exclusively to the Livery Companies of London.

The first is the law of continuing relevance. It is good to see that it receives a special mention on the Founders' website. Both our companies are involved in a wide range of worthwhile activities. David Cameron has talked recently yet again about the Big Society. Many commentators say that they are mystified by what he is talking about. I would suggest that the London Livery Companies have been practising the Big Society for centuries. Look no further than around this hall tonight to see individuals who give a great deal of their time, energy and cash to make this world a better place.

The second is the law of friendly rivalry. Our origins are ones where we jealously guard our traditions and responsibilities. I like for instance the depiction of a Draper's shop of five hundred years ago on the Founders' Company website. The picture is on your site because it illustrates weights and measures in use. Of course at the time all the companies engaged in trade kept their own weights and measures. These included the Drapers’ Yard as a standard for measuring cloth. I think we would have gone a long way to deny you had any authority over our trade. However this tension is creative and is part of the dynamism that underpins the City of London through good times and bad. To return to my earlier comments about diseases, we are a collectively a beneficial system that can tackle many of the viruses, such as poverty, sickness and lack of educational opportunity, that enter the body of the City of London from time to time.'

Overall a great evening where I was fortunate to meet an impressive group of individuals with great enthusiasm for the professional side of the Company and its wider interests. It was a great privilege to be invited and I could not have been more generously looked after.

Thursday, 22 July 2010


A busy day at the Drapers' Hall.

It started with a Court of Wardens at 11.00am. This is a unique meeting in the Company's year where the Wardens of the current and next year meet together. Of the Master and four Wardens three were standing down and the three new Wardens are Christian Williams, who has been Master, as Renter Warden, Lady Victoria Leatham, becoming Second Master Warden and William Charnley, newly elected to the Court as Junior Warden. Tony Walker and myself stay on moving up one notch.

Normally this is a pretty straightforward meeting tidying up a few loose ends. However the continuing soap opera of the Department of Education's review of the Drapers' Academy new-buld and some interesting ideas for new items for Company gifts took a little time. The meeting concluded with Peter Bottomley MP, the outgoing Renter Warden, making a warm tribute to the Mastership of Professor Graham Zellick.

We then assembled in the Court Room to swear in for the next year. It is a simple ceremony where after making some big commitments in seventeenth century English we exchanged ceremonial keys of office.

Then it was off to rehearse the transfer of offices as they are carried out at the Election Dinner that evening. Part of the ceremony involves placing what seems to be Tudor style headgear, flat and completely unyielding in its construction, on the head of your successor. However as Master Elect I was able to claim a hat that aproximately fitted. This took some of the imminent danger out of the inevitable bowing as responsibilties are transferred.

The Livery Hall set out for the Election Dinner.  The top table is at the far end of the room under the portrait of Queen Victoria.
Election Dinner starts early at 6.30pm is one of the two really grand and large scale evening events of the Company's year. As always it was very well organised and drilled by John Freestone, who is called the Beadle but in addition to some ceremomial duties is our catering manager.

At around ten o'clock a further part of the process that sees me elected Master took place in that I read out the Master's Oath before the members of the Company and guests and made the following statement.

'I am very conscious having just taken the Master’s Oath that some five hundred and twenty individuals since 1438, when the present structure of the Company with a Master and four Wardens came into being, have made it in more or less this form.

It is beyond doubt looking around this Hall tonight that they were remarkably successful in meeting its requirements. But they went well beyond their promise to merely safeguard and protect our ancient heritage. The collective dynamism, vision and self-confidence of my predecessors has, with the support of the Court, Livery and Freedom, continuously sustained, enriched and energised our Company over the centuries.

It is a very great honour indeed to be elected Master and I am aware that I have exceptionally high standards to meet and sustain over the next year. I am standing on the shoulders of giants and with the support of the Court and the wider Company I am sure I shall not lose my balance.'

On the subject of balance, my hat stayed on.

The day finally ended in the Company Garden at midnight when Graham Zellick passed on the Master's badge to me and Jennifer Zellick passed over her badge to Rosemary.

The year begins.

Thursday, 15 July 2010


At the Court Meeting yesterday I was unanimously (as the sole candidate!) elected as Master from midnight 20/21 July for the following year. It is a huge honour.

Before the election I had to inform the Court of the Secretary of State for Education's decision to halt work on the new buildings for Drapers' Academy for reconsideration as to whether it should go ahead. At this stage there is every possibility the project could be stopped. This would be a great tragedy especially as we were only eight weeks from financial close after two year's work.

Matters are moving fast. We have to submit responses to a hastily drafted questionnaire by Friday 16 July and we will be told what officials at the Department for Education think about our project around 28 July.

If the news is bad we will, as a Company, have to possibly make some big decisions in August as to what to do next. Not a good time when the Court is on holiday and our co-sponsors at Queen Mary, University of London are in the middle of their summer break.

Anyway, a difficult start to the new Company year. As I said to the Court, who were very supportive about our predicament, my year as Master can only get better from now on.

Now on to the Election and Dinner on Tuesday 20 July.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010


I was informed yesterday that Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Education, has decided to put the new-build of Drapers' Academy, Harold Hill (it's near Romford in Essex) up for review because of the current government spending crisis.

This is unwelcome news. I am Chair of the Drapers' Academy project and with three other members of the Company: James Devereux (a Past Master), Alan Morris (Liveryman) and Stephen Beharrell (Liveryman) as well as great team from Queen Mary University of London led by Prof Morag Shiach and a senior management team headed up by our Principal, Matthew Slater, we have been working for nearly two years on this project. And I must mention the huge support we have had from London Borough of Havering from the Leader of Council, Michael White, downwards, especially David Tomlinson and John Farry, and our teams of advisers from Cambridge Education and EC Harris.

The new buildings are going to be one of the crowning glories of Drapers' Academy (Go तो to find out more). We are now within eight weeks of financial close, so this news is a real blow.

But in the immortal words of Lance Corporal Jones of Dad's Army, 'Don't panic.' We have started lobbying hard and the local MP, Angela Watkinson, has already given her support. We have a meeting tomorrow afternoon at the Academy Shop on Harold Hill to discuss tactics.

More about Drapers' Academy over some of the next few posts.