In 1999 a small group of Islington parents, concerned about the quality of education in the Borough started to meet to see if they could create a new Church of England secondary school within the area. Previously there had been a number of failed attempts to enlist local and central government support for this idea. Later that year they approached Tom Peryer, the Director of Education for the Diocese of London to enlist his support.

In September 2007, the St Mary Magdalene Academy, sponsored by the Diocese of London opened its doors for the first time to a group of Year 7 students. The new Academy was in fact an all-age academy incorporating an existing Church primary school. The secondary department will fill gradually so that the school will be completely full with its sixth form by 2011.

Key features of the school are:
• It is all age
• It’s specialism is Global Citizenship
• The International Baccalaureate will be the core programme
   in the sixth form
• It has an inclusive admissions policy
• The buildings are the design of one of the leading architectural
   practices in the UK – it is a stunning design

The school has become the most oversubscribed school in Islington.

The challenges
But getting to the point of opening the school was a long, challenging journey full of highs and lows – which is in the nature of most projects.
Along the way the following milestones had to be crossed:

• The Council had to be persuaded to accept the idea of a Church
   secondary school – in the end a very strong partnership was formed
   especially between the Leader of the Council and Tom Peryer who
   lead throughout for the Diocese
• The Government also had to be persuaded that there was a convincing
   case for an Academy and one sponsored by the Church of England
• The primary school governing body and parents had to give their
   assent to the proposal
• The opposition of local residents to a secondary school in their backyard
   and the opposition of political groups opposed to academies had
   to be overcome
• A court case brought by opponents had to be won
• Difficult negotiations over the funding of the building had to take place
  so that the vision was not compromised
• The constraints of a very challenging and ‘compact’ urban site had
  to be responded to with an exceptional design
• Local parents had to be persuaded of the merits of a new school
  and one which had been the subject of much local controversy
• The recruitment of an exceptional Principal and staff as well as
  a group of governors and a new chair of governors

A growing success
Despite these challenges, the Academy is now going from strength to strength. From 1999 until 2008 Tom Peryer has been at the forefront of leading the various teams who together have created the new Academy. As one of the original parents and now a governor wrote ‘Without you ….we wouldn’t be here today’ and another Governor wrote ‘All of us at St Mary Magdalene are only too aware of the incalculable influence you have had in getting this school up and running…we acknowledge our debt to you which is very great indeed’

In May 2009 the Academy building was a winner in the London regional finals of the prestigious annual awards presented by the Royal Institute of British Architects for the quality of its design. It will now go forward to be considered for the shortlist of six projects from around the UK for the annual Stirling Prize for the best designed building of the year.