‘Extremely foolish’: Parents and teachers at packed meeting protest against plans for free school in Highbury
Around 100 people were asked if they backed the plan but not a single person raised their hand,
12 December, 2016 — By Joe Cooper
Highbury Fields teacher and Islington NUS vice-president Rachel Archer, former councillor and Highbury Community Association member Julie Horten, Cllr Joe Caluori, Islington Council director of planning Karen Sullivan and parent Abi Hopkins
PARENTS and teachers packed into a Highbury school to protest against the planned opening of a free school in the area.
The Department for Education (DfE) is expected to approve a bid by the Mellor Educational Trust (MET) to open a 1,000-place free school with a film specialism at Ladbroke House within weeks. There are already two “outstanding” schools in Highbury.
Islington Council has made its disapproval clear to MET, film company and sponsor Working Title and senior officials at the DfE.
When around 100 people were asked if they backed the plan at Highbury Fields School on Tuesday, not a single person raised their hand, while an alternative proposal to build flats for public sector workers was greeted with mass approval.
MET are expected to submit a planning application in January. Karen Sullivan, director of planning, explained the council would not be able to object to the plan on the basis of it being a school as Ladbroke House has been used for education in the past, but objections on issues such as traffic impact would be possible.
The meeting was called because the government does not require free school applicants to consult the community.
The school will have no outdoor space, while nine luxury flats will also be built as part of the project. It would take 25 pupils per year from Islington, from ages 11-18, though its admission criteria could change.
Parents and teachers fear the new school could damage Highbury Grove and Highbury Fields schools while residents and community groups are concerned about the safety aspect of another 1,000 pupils in an already congested area.
An alternative proposal to build flats for public sector workers was greeted with mass approval
Gladys Berry, headteacher at Highbury Fields, said: “The pavements around our schools are narrow and there is an incredible amount of traffic. So I think the idea of adding in 1,000 students is extremely foolish,” she said. “Who in their right mind would plonk another secondary school here with no thought to the population?”
The film specialism of the school was criticised as a “fool’s errand” by a local film and TV producer, who said the industry was tiny and constantly changing, and said its educational value was “highly questionable”. MET’s school in Elstree has been told it “requires improvement” by Ofsted.
Rachel Archer, vice president of Islington National Union of Teachers (NUT), said: “We have to say no to people using our children’s education as an experiment.”
The Highbury Fields teacher also backed the plan to build flats for key workers such as teachers and social workers. The NUT estimates that nearly half of Islington’s newly qualified teachers quit their jobs within a few years of starting because they can’t afford to live within commuting distance of the school. “People love teaching in Islington but they’ve got no housing options. If we build homes then the teacher your child loves doesn’t have to leave,” Ms Archer said.
Cllr Caluori urged people to write to Lord Nash, the minister responsible at the DfE, and schools minister Nick Gibb with their concerns. He has also set up a petition to oppose the plan at you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/yes-to-affordable-homes-for-teachers-no-to-an-unwanted-free-school