Free School - Ashmount Site



 Education campaigners will be out in the streets of Islington and Haringey [1] over the next few weeks to raise awareness of the threat posed by a free school[2] which has been approved to open on the Islington/Haringey border.

 Support Our Local Schools[3] campaigners say a new primary free school, which has been approved to open on the former site of Ashmount Primary School on Hornsey Lane N19 in September 2014, could undermine local state primaries in the area.

 “Unlike many London Boroughs, this part of north London is not short of primary places and the free school can only succeed by taking in pupils who would otherwise have attended established local schools, taking pupil funding with them,” said Ken Muller, spokesperson for the campaign.

 The free school is not a local initiative. It will be run by two private companies which have formed the Bellevue Place EducationTrust[4]. Their application to open the school was approved by Education Secretary Michael Gove earlier this year.

 There was no discussion with local schools or parents before the bid was approved. Neither Islington Council, which owns the site, nor Haringey Council, were consulted even though neighbouring schools in both local authorities will be affected.

 The taxpayer-funded site, on valuable prime land close to Highgate, owned by Islington Council, has been earmarked for social housing but could be requisitioned and handed over to the free school by the Education Secretary.

 Campaigners will be collecting signatures on a petition opposing the free school over the next few weeks. They have also organised a public meeting to be held at Christ Church, Crouch End Hill, London N8 8AX on Thursday 24th October from 7pm-9pm when speakers will include local Head Teachers, Governors and Councillors.

 “Local people have not been asked if they want this school nor told about the enormous cost to local taxpayers of establishing an unnecessary new school on a site that has been deemed unfit for school use. If it is allowed to open it will not only railroad Islington’s plans for affordable social housing on the site but threaten the budgets of neighbouring local schools,” added Ken Muller.

[1]  Campaigners will be collecting signatures on a petition opposing the free school and handing out balloons to children from a stall in Crouch End, in front of the Town Hall Green from 11am-1pm on Saturday 5th October. Stalls will run on subsequent Saturdays and there will be leafleting around local schools and community sites. The press are invited to send a photographer.

[2] Free schools are not accountable to local authorities or local people. They can employ unqualified teachers, decide their own curriculum and run their own admissions.

[3] Support Our Local Schools represents local parents, teachers and governors opposed to the establishment of a free school on the Ashmount site.

[4] Bellevue runs two boarding schools in Switzerland and seven private schools in the UK.  Place Group is a project management company that receives Department for Education funding to assist academies and free schools to open. It is now also opening its own free schools. Together, the two companies have already opened a free school in Balham and are planning to open another in Bray next September. Place Group is also involved with two further free schools. They could soon be running a chain of taxpayer-funded independent schools.

 The following article appeared in the Islington Tribune (link)

Published: 22 February, 2013

BATTLE lines over the future of the controversial Ashmount School site are being drawn as the Town Hall, unions and teachers join forces to try to see off a proposed free school which could blow a £3m hole in the education budget.

Islington has already applied to the Department for Education to have the school site in Hornsey Lane, Archway, declared surplus to educational requirements. But there are now real fears within the Town Hall that education secretary Michael Gove will seize the site and hand it over to a free school.

A last roll of the dice to keep the school in the Town Hall’s hands could see a deal to create a new sixth-form for nearby St Aloysius’ College there.

But there were recriminations at a strategy meeting last Wednesday, with the Town Hall accused of “being entirely to blame” for the problem.

National Union of Teachers reps from St Aloysius – one of the best performing schools in the borough – said they had begged the council to let them use the building for a new sixth-form college.

“We warned them that unless they could use the building Michael Gove would take it,” the school’s NUT rep, Denis Doherty, said.

“It is just up the road from our school,” he added. “Many of our boys have to walk past it. Instead, we are having to hold lessons here [Archway Methodist Hall]. Islington is entirely to blame.”

He added that a new £17m block at the site under Building Schools for the Future project at St Aloysius had been “disastrous” and left them with less room.

St Aloysius is about to submit plans to build a new sixth-form block in its playground.

But a former Ashmount teacher responded that, even if the council had agreed to support St Aloysius, the school site could still have been seized.

Two organisations have publicised their plans to open a free school on the Ashmount site. One is from a group of Hornsey parents called the Oak School, who want to create a Steiner-inspired school for pupils aged five to 18. The other is from the private educational businesses, Palace Group and Bellevue Education, which want to open a primary school.

Both say they are confident the building can be repaired.

Islington’s education chief Councillor Richard Watts last week wrote to every teacher and union official in the borough outlining the council’s argument against a free school.

He said that Islington is one of the few London boroughs to have enough school places as it is.

His letter added: “If the site is seized for a free school it would leave a significant hole in the council’s finances that will lead to there being less money for other school refurbishments across the borough.”

At last week’s meeting, teachers from Mount Carmel girls’ school, in Duncombe Road, Archway, expressed fears that a new school on the Ashmount site would be the “final nail in the coffin” of their school.

“We are below full roll,” one said. “We are a very successful school. But as your roll falls, your money falls and as that money drains out you still have to make the numbers add up. So we’re looking at cuts.

“Eventually a school will wind up. Our concern is that we are on that slippery slope. For a free school to open five minutes away will be the final nail in the coffin. So we are very worried.”

The meeting decided to try to build support for the Town Hall to withdraw its application to sell the site and instead fund a new sixth-form for St Aloysius by building some housing.

Cllr Watts told the Tribune yesterday (Thursday) that he had listened to this idea, but still thought the building was too far gone to be repaired.

But he added: “If Gove doesn’t give us permission to sell the site then we would enter into discussions with St Aloysius.”

Touch of glass 50s style

THE old Ashmount Primary School was built in the 1950s by architect H T Cadbury-Brown. Conservation bodies such as the 20th Century Society consider it an important building, because of its experimental glass frontage.

However, the Town Hall says it will cost £8m to bring up to modern standards. The single panel glass makes it hard to heat in winter, and difficult to keep cool in the summer.

Education chiefs therefore spent £6m building a new school in nearby Crouch Hill Park, which has just opened. They wanted to recoup £3m of this cost by selling the old site to a housing association.

This has proved controversial because some residents in the area want to keep the site for community use and oppose it being sold off. St Aloysius’ College also wanted to use the site for its sixth-form.

Before the council can sell the site, education secretary Michael Gove must declare it surplus to educational requirements.

Now at least two organisations have applied to open a free school there.

If either is successful the Town Hall will be forced to hand the Ashmount site over on a 125-year lease for free.

That means it will not recoup its £3m and will have to find that money from the existing education budget.