Free school group targets Liddell Road

The free school campaign is making waves again. Make that free schools. Plural. Having struggled to get much traction in the latter half of 2013, the NW6 Free School group has re-emerged with a new name, a shiny website and a mildly controversial claim that Liddell Road would be the ideal site for its schools – a primary and secondary.

A school on Liddell Road? Doesn’t that sound vaguely familiar?

At the moment, Camden is planning to build its own state primary school on the Liddell Road industrial estate. It’s an extension to Kingsgate School and would house kids from 3-7 (the existing Kingsgate site would house the 7-11 year-olds).

To pay for this, the council plans to sell off the rest of the land at Liddell Road for 120 flats and some commercial space. Despite broad acceptance of the need for more primary places, there have been many objections to this overall proposal and to the way in which the decision has been made.

Dr Clare Craig, the public face of the free schools campaign, argues that the site should be used to house its schools instead of Camden’s. Originally, the free school campaign wanted a secondary school only. The plan to include a primary school as well began before Christmas. Dr Craig: “We realised that the Department for Education want to see that free school groups are addressing the needs of their whole community and we would be failing to do that if we didn’t have a primary offer too.”

The campaign, now operating under its new name of “The West Hampstead International School”, has also brought its schedule nearer with an ambition to open in 2015 rather than 2016 as originally proposed. This would mean opening a year ahead of Camden’s own proposal.

The school(s) would have a two-form primary school entry and a six-form secondary entry. To get government backing, the Department for Eduction apparently likes to see evidence that there’s twice as much interest in a new school as places. This means the campaigners need 120 signatures from parents of children starting reception in each of the first two years, and more than 300 for those starting Year 7 in those years. In other words, around 850 parents have to sign up. As of the start of this week, the campaign had more than 200, although apparently not all of the right age.

If the campaign fail to get enough signatories by the start of May, the 2015 opening date will be impossible to meet and they will revert to 2016, given them more time to collect support. Even now, opening two schools within 18 months with no site allocated and no buildings up seems like an extremely tall order.

It’s hard to imagine Camden, which owns the Liddell Road site, deciding to reverse its decision and allow a free school to open there, even if the campaign could muster the support it needs.

Dr Craig has said that the group is looking at two other sites, which are privately owned. Apparently, she is not allowed to reveal where the sites are until after negotiations. There are not many options in the area though – there’s always idle chatter about using 156 West End Lane (Travis Perkins) for schooling, but there are practical difficulties and it seems unlikely it would be redeveloped in time anyway. The other options might be down Blackburn Road.

Free school agnostics might see the primary school option as a way of removing the problem of a split-site Kingsgate school. But are there enough of them with children of exactly right age? To give some context, the 2011 census counted 3,279 children aged 0-15 in West Hampstead and Fortune Green wards. No wonder then that, while the free school is choosing to have “most of our admissions” based on a fairly tight catchment area, there will also be places “allocated by lottery” for anyone living within two miles.

The group is holding a series of public meetings to explain more about its proposals. The next one is Monday Feb 10th in the synagogue community hall. The other two in West Hampstead are on March 1st and March 11th.

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  • Phil Rosenberg

    An unexpected development…

    In the past, local Liberal Democrats and Conservatives have supported the idea of a local free school, but opposed the idea of a primary school on the Liddell Road site. I wonder what they make of this development… Are they pro, anti or both at the same time? Interested to hear…

    Whilst the case for additional secondary school places is disputed, there is without doubt an urgent need for primary school places in West Hampstead. I have even met local parents who are having to home-school their children because they can’t get them in there!

    In spite of the £163million of Conservative-Lib Dem Coalition cuts to Camden’s budget, and their cancellation of Labour’s Building Schools for the Future programme, Camden Council’s Labour administration is finding the funds to invest in West Hampstead and create the needed places.

    The Council is advancing plans for a council-run primary school on the Liddell Road site, extending Kingsgate Primary School with the latter’s support.

    I can’t see the Council going for this new proposal, which would move in to the risky space of a new experimental free school, outside the high-performing Camden family of schools.

    In a time where money was less tight, it might make sense to try such things, but with tight resources we need to be investing in existing schools and needed places first.

    In general, given the acute shortage of places, I think we really need to get a move on with the Council’s plans and stop the distractions. We can’t risk a ‘lost generation’ of West Hampstead children who can’t get in to any primary school because we failed to grasp the nettle.

    It is time for action.

    • JOHN BRYANT

      On Tuesday 21st January Camden Labour abused the scrutiny system to push through an ideological policy to extend Kingsgate School against overwhelming evidence that the case was flawed.

      Labour members ignored the fact that the decision to extend the school by placing an infant and nursery building half a mile away on an industrial estate would put children and parents at risk when travelling to school on West End Lane. They ignored the fact that adding a further transition to pupils’ lives when switching from Infants to juniors could impact on their progress.

      Labour also relished the fact that the site would have to be cleared of the current local businesses occupying the site, shipping out well over a hundred jobs from the area. They also ignored the fact that the housing scheme designed to pay for the scheme allowed for no affordable housing, breaking the Council’s own planning policy.

      And the final insult to the West Hampstead community was the realisation that although the school could now be paid for by £6.7m funding allocated by the Coalition Government, the current proposals proceeded, unchanged by the scrutiny committee, to make the Council £9.7m profit to spend elsewhere in the borough.

      So West Hampstead gets a potentially dysfunctional school, (with some Kilburn parents losing out on places when the admission point moves northwards), an over intensive private housing development, no affordable housing to sweeten the pill, and a decimated industrial estate no longer providing local employment.

      The alternative case would be for a stand alone all-age primary school to serve the bulging pupil numbers in West Hampstead, which will grow further on the back of already committed housing developments. The Government money should be earmarked for the school and the rest of the site development could provide for a bigger industrial estate than the one currently proposed.

      Why can’t Labour consider this alternative? Because they are ideologically opposed to finding an acceptable partner to lead a Free School or Academy on the site, which is why they were not prepared to use the scrutiny committee for its intended purpose.

      West Hampstead needs a new primary school that will be in place for at least 100 years, but we should not accept this flawed proposal.

      • Diane

        John, were you aware that the free school campaign was set up for a secondary! Conveniently, primary has been tagged on now and the school is campaigners are advertising for pupils from Brent and Westminster.
        How many years will the local and not so local (from the lottery applications) will they end up in port-a-cabins… if say it were to go on the 02 car park site then we could be looking at ten years.
        With regarding to the signatures… the campaigners are now asking for ALL parents to sign up, apparently being the right age for this campaign is no longer a requirement… bending the rules, changing the goal posts… what next!
        I think the signatures for this petition should be legally binding, then we would be able to find out the true extent of support for campaigners that have kept the decision making on a new school virtually exclusive to a small group of parents from one local church school.
        They are hell bent on getting what they want because they refuse to even attend an open day at the schools on offer… Hampstead School… who have great results this year, don’t you think?

      • NW2_Kate

        So a free school won’t be “potentially dysfunctional”? Camden have a track record of running excellent schools and the free school campaign is nothing but a gamble. When I was in school, we had infants and juniors on separate sites and I believe this is fairly common. Where is the evidence to suggest this model is dysfunctional?

      • JOHN BRYANT

        No, separate sites are no longer common and the trend in the last twenty years is to avoid two site schools, by combining formerly separate infant and junior schools onto one site as all-age primary schools. Educationalists are aware of the impact of the transition between schools as it often slows up pupil progress. Deliberately choosing to change from an all age primary school on one site to a twin site school with sites half a mile apart is perverse as it will introduced an extra transition that is not necessary.
        Choosing the partner for a new school is the key to all of this, which is why when I had responsibility for Children Services in Camden a new secondary school was built with UCL as its sponsor and not a used car dealer or creationist or any other suspect organisation.

      • NW2_Kate

        So are you supporting the proposed all-through school on Liddell Road with WHIS as a partner?

    • Andrew Saywell

      Phil’s comment is clearly trying to avoid the heart of the matter which is Labour’s decision to build a school on Liddell Road is going to cost 250 jobs in West Hampstead. A Labour decision is destroying local industry and impoverishing the area that Phil would like to represent. I would be interested to know what Phil’s comments would be to the workers and families who will be rendered unemployed by Camden’s decision?

      As for the NW6 Free School Campaign- which we support – they are clearly looking at venues and inevitably, in the light of Labour’s irresponsible decision about Liddell Road, they have a right to look at these grounds. Camden Labour have already destined it to an expansion of Kingsgate, a school whose main building is roughly a mile away from this road, as opposed to setting it up as an academy. But them we already know that the NUT doesn’t like academies and Labour can only parrot their line – despite academies being a Blair creation and Tristan Hunt opening up to the free school concept once more (he calls them parent-lead academies).

      • Theo Blackwell

        Except that’s a convenient myth and not true.

        Camden is supporting the new free school in King’s Cross and works closely with the UCL Academy and other free schools locally, but this project is different because we had the option of expanding an already OFSTED-outstanding school.

        This route is also allowed and recommended by the Chief Inspector of Schools so why rule this out? Camden has the best primary schools in the country and its good to keep it that way.

        Seems to me that some politicians only want free schools, because the opaque ways in which things are decided by central government allows them to promise lots of things to campaigners before elections.

        I side with building a new OSTED-rated ‘outstanding’ primary school to open in 2016.