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School votes against renaming itself in honour of pioneering black headteacher

Beckford will become West Hampstead Primary School

02 December, 2020 — By Tom Foot

Poll followed Black Lives Matter protests

BECKFORD School will become West Hampstead Primary School after parents and pupils voted against renaming it after its former pioneering headteacher, Beryl Gilroy.

Hundreds of parents, pupils and staff cast votes on three choices after the governors agreed to change the name in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests in June.

The worldwide protests led to an official review of council-owned buildings named after historical figures connected with the slave trade.

William Beckford, an MP and former mayor of London who owned a house in West Hampstead, had made a vast fortune on the backs of hundreds of slaves working on his sugar plantations in Jamaica.

The three new school names put to the vote were West Hampstead Primary School, Broomsleigh School – the school’s original 19th century name – and Gilroy Primary School.

Ms Gilroy was one of the country’s first black headteachers who ran the Beckford in 1968-1982 and became an education expert and author described by the British Library archive to be “the most extensively published Caribbean writers of her time”.

The result will disappoint hundreds of former Beckford pupils – including the Oscar winner actress Emma Thompson – who had signed a petition calling for it to be named after Ms Gilroy.

It said: “Given the reasons to be reconsidering the name of the school, re-naming this great school after Beryl Gilroy would be the perfect way of addressing contemporary concerns while also honouring the school’s history of successful inclusion and diversity.”

Many, including Ms Gilroy’s daughter Darla, had hoped that the school’s new name change would send “strong message” for future generations of pupils.

But pupils and parents at the school – which is in Fortune Green ward – overwhelmingly voted against Gilroy in favour of West Hampstead.

A breakdown of the voting showed that of 393 children to vote, 55 per cent wanted West Hampstead Primary School, 25 per cent Broomsleigh, and 20 per cent Gilroy.

Of the 220 parents to vote, 53 per cent wanted West Hampstead Primary School, 24 per cent Gilroy, and 23 per cent Broomsleigh.

Of the staff, 50 per cent wanted Gilroy, 27 per cent said West Hampstead and 23 per cent Broomsleigh.

The decision was approved by the governing body on Tuesday.

The family of William Beckford owned a large house near what is now West Hampstead Thameslink station.

William Beckford

In 1929, the school’s name was mysteriously changed from Broomsleigh Street School to Beckford in a move local historians said could not be explained.

The rebirth of the school has allowed the head to put in place a “new curriculum” that will include lessons on its history and the slaveowner Beckford.

Sam Drake said: “The renaming of the school gives us an unparalleled opportunity to design and enact a new curriculum that is in line with our school values.

“I, along with the rest of the staff cannot wait to share it with our children whilst ensuring that our school continues to be a special place for them to learn and thrive.”

It is not decided yet whether new uniforms will be funded for existing pupils.

A mural of Beryl Gilroy will be unveiled at the school after the new name change comes into force in September.

The chair of governors Madhavan Raman added: “Whilst we are starting a new chapter in our school’s history, we mustn’t forget the pivotal role that Beckford Primary School has played in so many people’s lives over the years.”




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