Schools: What the parties say

It’s fast becoming the most divisive issue in north-west Camden politics. Do we need more schools? What sort of schools? Where should they be? Who should run them?

Primary schools
It’s universally accepted that a new primary school is needed in our part of Camden. Under current legislation, a new school would have to be an academy – i.e., outside of local authority control. The only way round this is to expand an existing school.

Camden council, rightly proud of its primary schools, proposes to expand Kingsgate Primary School, which sits on the corner of Kingsgate Road and Messina Avenue. Kingsgate can’t expand on its existing site. Instead, the council wants to open a remote extension on what is now the Liddell Road industrial estate. We have covered this in some detail before. To fund the expansion, the council plans to allow a private residential development to occupy the rest of the site – controversially with next to no affordable housing, even though it intends to make a £9 million profit on the site (£3m from the housing + the £6m central government funding it has received since the first plans were put forward). It is not clear whether that £9m would be reinvested in West Hampstead, or be dispersed throughout the borough.

Secondary schools
It’s not universally accepted that we need another secondary school. In fact it’s almost impossible to get clarity on the statistics being bandied around by both sides.

Parents campaigning for a new school mix up statistics from different geographic areas: constituency, ward, borough, postcode, which makes it hard to decipher the true need. Here’s the free school page on numbers (including links to the data). Meanwhile, the council argues that its analysis shows that there will be sufficient school places in the borough until 2022/23, including the NW6 area.

The only stat that seems clear cut is that across Camden, eight children ended up without a secondary school place in the last round of allocations.

The group pushing for a free school – already named the West Hampstead International School – submitted its application to the Department for Education about 10 days ago. The application is now for a primary and secondary school, and parents are also eyeing up the Liddell Road site. With 1,600 students, it would be the largest school in Camden when full in 2022, so potential sites are not obvious.

Dr Clare Craig submits the free school application to the DfE

Dr Clare Craig submits the free school application to the DfE

If the free school can’t secure the Liddell Road site, it’s not clear where else it could set up. The campaign website says only “Before securing a site we need to show the Department for Education there is sufficient demand so the school will be full when it opens. We are confident some of the brownfield land at the West Hampstead railway interchange can be secured for the school.”

There are almost no brownfield sites left that would be large enough – 156 West End Lane is large, but would be controversial for a school given the traffic situation on West End Lane. The O2 car park redevelopment would certainly have the size, but is a long way off. There’s likely to be more development of Blackburn Road, which could work but again, it’s not imminent and the school is hoping to take its first children in September 2015.

This issue of location has dogged proposed free schools locally. It’s been widely reported that some of these have had to tell parents who thought their child had a place that they don’t have a site and therefore parents should look at local authority options. The lack of sites is turning out to be a major problem and it’s hard to imagine that parents would have confidence in a school that has yet to secure classrooms but wants to open in 2015.

What do the parties have to say?
Labour opposes the idea of a new secondary school. It disputes the figures that suggest demand, and is pushing hard for the Kingsgate primary expansion on Liddell Road. It has by far the clearest position of the three main parties.

The Conservatives, said council candidate Andrew Parkinson at hustings, are “completely against Liddell Road as a site for a primary school”. In a more considered written response, he said, “Until we are satisfied that a full search for and assessment of other potential sites has been carried out, we will continue to oppose the choice of Liddell Road”.

The party has a manifesto commitment to supporting the free school but doesn’t seem to be throwing its weight behind the statistical analysis suggesting that a new school is needed, simply saying “Local people tell us that there are not enough local state school places for our children.”

Nor are the Tories willing to say where such a school would be located:

As for potential sites apart from Liddell Road, it would be inappropriate to name one site until a full assessment of suitability both for children and residents is carried out. However, the Travis Perkins building has been closed for three years and could potentially support either a primary or secondary school. Further, West Hampstead is to undergo significant change in the next few years as the railway lands (including sites at the O2 centre and Midland Crescent) are developed. The potential for a school to be included within these developments will also need to be fully considered.

Caught between the two seem to be the Liberal Democrats. They have argued against the expansion of Kingsgate to Liddell Road which, according to Cllr John Bryant at Monday night’s hustings, “for educational reasons, we think is wrong”. However, the party is not against Liddell Road being used as a primary school site, arguing that “we do not believe that the planned expansion of Kingsgate School is the right solution, and would prefer to proceed with either a totally new stand-alone primary school or consider the merits of a through school.”

In terms of supporting the free school, the Lib Dems say that they “support local campaigns for new schools, but would wish those schools to form part of the Camden family of schools”, which presumably means that they would come under some form of local authority control. This is broadly in line with national party policy on free schools, which boils down to “knock yourself out, but they’ve got to stick to the national curriculum and use qualified teachers”.

In a lengthy written response, the Lib Dems are keen to point out that they have supported the parents behind the free school campaign (although they acutally stop short of saying they support the proposed school itself), but that they also support Hampstead School as a “good local school.”

Where might a secondary school go?

“We believe that a general review of suitable sites for both primary and secondary school provisions in the West Hampstead and Kilburn area is needed, looking at all possible sites in the area, including Liddell Road itself, but taking full advantage of central government funding to avoid unnecessarily pushing businesses off of the site and using private housing to fund a school there; the 156 West End Lane site and other future development sites including the O2 car park, although it is important to be aware that unlike the other two sites mentioned that is not of course owned by the London Borough of Camden.”

When asked how they would ensure school place provision should the free school application fail, the Lib Dems’ response is

“We would say that the expansion of Emmanuel School and the building of the UCL Academy in Swiss Cottage have already gone a considerable way to addressing the shortage of both primary and secondary places in the area.” They continue “Should the WHIS application fail on technical grounds, we would encourage this parents’ group to continue in their efforts to provide further secondary school places in our area, possibly looking outside the precise geographical area of West Hampstead and Fortune Green.”

For the Greens, Leila Mars said at the hustings that the party supports free schools. This is in fact, not Green Party policy. The policy is to bring existing free schools back under local authority control.

UKIP‘s Magnus Nielsen didn’t have anything specifically to say on this issue at hustings, other than to recognise that primary education is very important. This was possibly the least controversial thing he said all evening.

Listen to all the parties’ comments on the schools question from last Monday night’s hustings

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  • Diane

    The fact the free school team had to lobby parents for signatures across four different boroughs to get support for a proposed new school in West Hampstead speaks for itself.

  • Diane

    One comment Jonathan, currently the number of children without a place is now zero.

  • Mr. Martini

    Have the LibDems not read the Academies Act? Why do they think the local authority could be involved with a free school?

    Also, is the LidDem policy for more primary places simply to advise the free school group to try again if their application fails? Hardly seems like a plan.

    Would 1,600 pupils on 3 acres be the highest pupil density in the country?

  • Frankie Cudd

    A WARNING TO ALL PARENTS AND TAX PAYERS:

    The free school have announced their team which consists of mainly new names.

    This team propose to set up a new school, so in effect they wish to replace the LEA Camden.

    Camden currently have a solid plan for 420 primary places for 2016 with the expansion of the outstanding Kingsgate School. There really is no alternative unless of course you want to hang on to the endless, repetitive and totally exaggerated, meaningless promises of the free school campaigners.

    After a year of campaigning the free school now have…….well……… a new team! Find them here
    http://www.westhampsteadinternational.org/introducing-governing-body/

    On this new team you will see there is ex Director of a DfE agency – funnily enough the name of that agency has been omitted. Amy Leonard is in fact an ex Director of a disgraced DfE agency which was axed after damning reports by the National Audit Office and axed in 2012. But you must still be wondering why the name is not included, no me neither!

    Amy dabbles in many other things and so you if you are stuck for filling places at your free school you can call Amy here to arrange tours as empty places cost:
    http://www.newschoolsnetwork.org/news/nsn-comments-on-national-primary-offer-day

    Oh if you fancy an Eco house you can call Amy here:
    http://www.bickleigh-eco-village.com/media.php

    If you want to find some ex DfE investors then call their press lady Amy here:
    http://www.cornerstoneassets.co.uk/news-item/

    MOST IMPORTANTLY and here is an excellent example of Amy’s skills and ability, her training to the New Schools Network. The NSN that is granted funds by government to grant funds to free schools to market their websites and ideas to make lots of wonderful promises and raise the hopes of parents all over the country – if you want media training in marketing free schools call Amy here:
    http://www.newschoolsnetwork.org/sites/default/files/Seminars.ppt
    The free school obviously didn’t follow the advice on video’s – no one every watches them!
    So you get a bit of this, a bit of that and Amy Leonard works provides this via her private company Denford Associates – there is no website for her company.
    Folks remember, your taxes are paying for all of this.
    I DON’T TRUST CHANCERS, I TRUST MY LEA, our kids are too important.

    • Mr. Martini

      What the hell Amy Leonard doing being a governor at this “free” school? Does she live locally or does she have something to sell? Judging from that PowerPoint presentation, she’s already spread her talents too thin.

  • Sally Carmichael

    We were sold a school which would be working in partnership with top-notch, leafy suburban schools where stockbrokers send their children. The school was supported by a long list of impressive people, including Dames and others at the top of their professions.

    As soon as the campaign submitted their application, they back-pedalled on their partnership with other schools and now it seems they are working with just one head teacher rather than a whole group of schools. Their team has shrunk to a shadow of its former self and no Dames remain.

    It all seems so dodgy. Is it too late to back out of this?

    • NW6 school

      We’re sorry to hear that you are under the impression there has been any lessening of the ALA’s support for WHIS, but you’ve been misinformed. In fact the ALA partnership formed a unique and exciting part of our final application to the DfE. You can read more about it here http://www.westhampsteadinternational.org/role-advanced-learning-alliance/

      • Frankie Cudd

        WHIS doesn’t exist so neither does any partnership. The more you write the more desperate it all sounds – you really have nothing and this was all you could muster up.