Free school’s name change to Harpenden Academy prompts parental backlash

Children demonstrating the new name, Harpenden Academy

Children demonstrating the new name, Harpenden Academy - Credit: Archant

Parents are unhappy about the name change of a primary school which moves into its new permanent home in September.

They are concerned about the connotations of changing the name of Harpenden Free School to Harpenden Academy which has been agreed by the governors.

A parent, who did not wish to be named but said lots of parents were also concerned about the name change, commented: “It sounds like a secondary school but also it has particular connotations because of news items about failing schools having to become academies.

“We haven’t been consulted at all yet the whole ethos of the school is a lot of parental engagement. We would normally have expected to be consulted about this.”

Describing the name change as being forced on parents, she said lots of them had written to say they were unhappy with it. Most were not adverse in principle to a name change because of the connotations attached to free schools but felt it was like jumping from the frying pan into the fire.

She went on: “It feels like the governors are completely out of touch with how the parents feel.”

Harpenden Free School opened in 2012 and has occupied two temporary sites - Tithe Barn in Redbournbury and St Luke’s School in Redbourn. In Septembser it is to move into new permanent premises which were previously occupied by the town’s library in Vaughan Road, Harpenden.

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The parent said: “People don’t like the name change and it is just a shame we couldn’t have had Vaughan or Victoria in the name.”

Chair of governors, Ruth Martin, admitted in a letter to parents last month that the issue of the name change continued to cause discussion ‘as the media portrays academies in isolated contexts”

She said the governors had received both positive and anxious correspondence from parents which contained strongly-held opposing views.

She added: “We are listening to all with care and balancing them agains our mission, values and relentless focus on doing the best for our children.”

In a previous letter, she said there had been many reasons behind the decision, some pragmatic and some reflecting what the school was with the name academy better reflecting it as a place of learning.

Headteacher Marissa Davis said this week that the name change was a decision for the governing body but stressed that the school always consulted very closely with parents and could give numerous examples of that practice.

She said she was absolutely clear that children, parents and staff walked side by side and added: “We have so much excitement about moving forward.”