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Carlton Primary School: Parents vow to fight closure threat

Camden open talks amid applications shortage affecting primaries across borough

14 November, 2019 — By Helen Chapman

Parents and carers have formed a campaign group

PARENTS and carers have formed a campaign group in a bid to keep a primary school open amid warnings from the Town Hall that it could be the latest to close.

Carlton School in Grafton Road, Kentish Town, has held talks with council chiefs over falling school rolls – an issue affecting schools across the borough – and is now looking at ways it can avoid closure. A letter outlining the situation was sent home to parents on Friday. They were invited to attend meetings at the school on Monday.

It has led to a community reaction in support of Carlton, which has taught generations of families around the Queen’s Crescent area and is rated as “good” by Ofsted inspectors. Campaigners pledged to resist any confirmed move to close Carlton.

The discussions follow warnings from the council over the number of applications to primary schools due to the state of the housing market and falling birth rate.

St Aloysius, in Somers Town, is winding down in its final term after the Catholic primary school’s closure was announced earlier this year.

The issue of primary school places is likely to come up again at the Town Hall tonight (Thursday) when planning officials meet to decide whether Abacus Primary School can move into the old Hampstead police station building. Existing schools in Hampstead have warned it will put a squeeze on their numbers.

The amount of pupils coming through the door is crucial to all schools as it affects how much funding they receive from the government. Parents at the Carlton school gates this week said they are determined that it will not close.

Noella Bello Castro, a parent of a child in Year 4, said: “We’ve been part of the Carlton family since 2011 and my kids have thrived here. I feel like Camden hasn’t thought properly about the support that Carlton gives all the different groups in the local community.”

She added: “How can they justify closing an inclusive school with lots of children from black and minority ethnic backgrounds? “I’m very worried – it feels to me like they’ve chosen our school because they think we won’t fight back in the same way as white middle class communities in the borough.”

Jacqueline Phelan, Carlton’s headteacher who has been at the school since 1997, is working with the governing body on possible proposals to stay open by renting out spare classrooms. The school is currently at around 60 per cent capacity at its Victorian building. Nearly half of the pupils at the school receive free meals.

If you have something to say on the situation at Carlton Primary School: contact Helen Chapman or 0207 419 9000

Jusna Begum, another parent at Carlton, said: “It is a shock. I just can’t help but think how unsettling it would be for the children if the plans are to go ahead. This school is a massive part of the community.”

The council has partly blamed a falling birth rate for dwindling pupil numbers but there has also been a focus on the cost and availability of housing and the lack of family-sized homes. And there have been warnings that too much of the accommodation in Camden is being used for lucrative Airbnb rentals, rather than housing families here for the long term.

Carlton parent Shoda Rackal said: “Housing regeneration has had an impact. Families have moved out of the area. “If they don’t build for larger families, larger families are forced out of the local area.”

Abdul Haswath, another parent, added: “This school has been here for such a long time. If it closes it will be very bad for the community and for the future generation.”

According to the council, Carlton lost more than £100,000 in funding for 2018-19 due to the falling number of applications. Argyle, Brecknock, Rhyl and St Dominic’s primaries have also been hit with losses of the same amount, although there is no suggestion any of them are at risk of closure.

Jacqueline Phelan, the headteacher at Carlton School

Ms Phelan said: “We did have a quite a major restructure last year. “We are formally a two-form entry school but our current structure mirrors that of a one-form entry school. There is an issue with place planning across schools. We are working with Camden to try and find solutions to this issue.”

She added: “It is challenging for all schools to manage a budget in the current climate. As a school, we always have to think very carefully before making any purchases. However, we set a balanced budget at the beginning of this financial year and forecast to do the same next year.”

There is hope that parents, many of who went to the school themselves, will swing behind the school’s attempts to find a solution.

Ms Phelan added: “We are working with Camden to formulate a set of proposals. We are currently renting out space in the building to generate some income. We are working very hard to come up with proposals. If parents have proposals we would like to hear them and we will be listening to them.”

Mick Farrant, who was chair of governors at Carlton from 1985 to 2016, said: “The school has always done a fantastic job with some of the most deprived kids. “Over half the pupils receive free school meals, well over three times the national average. It has an enviable reputation of social cohesion.”

He added: “Many of the staff have been there for decades and live locally, many children are third-generation pupils. The council is obviously blind to the problems of the area where children are groomed into the rampant drug culture and gang violence. Carlton is one of the main bulwarks against these yet councillors and officers seem hellbent on destroying this irreplaceable asset.”

Town Hall education chief, Councillor Angela Mason, said: “I will be at the planning meeting for Abacus on Thursday and I am making the point that granting Abacus [permission to move into the old police station] will affect the dramatic falling of birthrate and falling school rolls in the system. “We don’t predict there will be an upturn trend. The predictions are fairly dire.”

She added: “The vacancy rate at Carlton is nearly at 40 per cent now. “It is really high and it has been a pattern for several years across the borough. No decisions have been made yet and I want everybody to have time to reflect on the best way forward. Nothing will be decided unless it is in the best way forward.”

A Camden Council spokesman said: “In common with the rest of London, we are facing an unprecedented issue where we have too few children to fill our primary school places. “This September the number of reception children admitted to Camden schools was down 9 per cent – 145 pupils – compared with the 2015 intake. This means that across Camden we now have around 15 per cent more primary school places than we need. In some schools the surplus is as much as 40 per cent. Our funding is based on how many places we fill, so we need to manage our school estate with this in mind.”

He added: “We have a duty to work with headteachers and chairs of governors to ensure that our schools are viable, financially secure and successful going into the future. “We will consult with parents, governors and interested parties on any proposals that come out of these discussions. “No decisions have been made yet but we want all parents and children in Camden to know that they will always have a place at a fantastic Camden primary school in their own community.”

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