I attended Camden's Children, Schools and Families Scrutiny Committee last night and posed a number of concerns about Labour's plans to expand Kingsgate Primary School to provide more school places in the north-west of Camden. The Cabinet Member, and the Scrutiny Committee members had no answers to the points I raised.
I was sufficiently exercised about the lack of detail in the officer's report to the committee that then wrote a letter to the local press. The full text is below in case it does not get printed in full.
"Mike Katz likes to take credit for pressing for a new primary school on the Liddell Road site in West Hampstead, but perhaps he should first explain why the report to Cabinet on 18th July stated that the Cabinet in December 2010 agreed to start the process for looking for a partner for a new school, but then nothing happened? Eighteen months later, when the shortage of places is getting critical, the Labour administration puts forward a proposal in haste which they might regret later.
We certainly need to use the Council owned site at Liddell Road to create the places but the failure to act for 18 months means no actual new school building will be in place until 2016.
The idea of extending Kingsgate Primary School could also backfire on them. If the Reception classes in the expanded school are established at the existing site, it is so close to the Brent border that many of the extra places will go to Brent parents on the proximity rule within the Admissions code. With Salusbury Primary School in Brent currently in Special Measures, Kingsgate becomes ever more attractive to parents living west of the Kilburn High Road. If on the other hand the Reception classes are placed at Liddell Road, then the proximity rule could work against Kilburn parents who live close to the existing Kingsgate site but too far away from Liddell Road to get a place.
If in effect the proposal is to have two separate all age schools on the two sites, the DFE could oppose, as it will then be seen as a ruse to avoid a Free School or Academy. Such an idea would also be really difficult to manage. A four form entry primary school usually has year-group co-ordinators to organise the curriculum across four classes and to monitor teaching standards. Doing this on two sites several hundred yards apart would be time-wasting for all the staff involved.
The paper to the Cabinet also indicated that no preliminary work had been undertaken on Option 2 (the Free school/Academy option). While I can understand local Labour members hostile to this in principle (forgetting of course that Academies were the only option available for new schools under the last Labour Government), the Council is still welcoming a new Academy primary school sponsored by Argent in Kings Cross.
Getting the right sponsor is the key to this, but the blinkered Labour Council is not prepared to find a like-minded sponsor, such as UCL, which accepts the need for an inclusive intake and collaboration with others in the Camden family of schools.
Voting for a half-baked proposal without exploring any other option is a knee-jerk reaction to Labour's own failure to act for 18 months while the Labour Group fought over the prize of the Cabinet position. I sincerely hope that the latest incumbent Angela Mason hangs on long enough to make some sort of progress, and turns this proposal into something coherent."