Published: 27 June, 2013
by RICHARD OSLEY
A NEW secondary school is finally – after decades of parent campaigns and broken promises – set to open in the south of Camden, the New Journal can reveal. The Town Hall is on the brink of finalising a deal which will see a four-form school open in Wren Street, Holborn.
Camden’s schools chief Councillor Angela Mason said last night (Wednesday): “We are looking at it being open for September 2016.”
The move follows repeated warnings over several years that families south of the Euston Road seeking secondary school admissions are left high and dry. There was deep frustration in the southern wards of the borough that when a new academy school did open in Camden, it was built in Swiss Cottage, even though its sponsor was Bloomsbury-based University College London.
Parent campaigners were often told there was simply no land available for a new secondary school in the southern Camden wards. In the end, the Wren Street site, where leases are all expiring next year, was suggested by campaigners rather than the Town Hall. It was claimed at one stage that officials had done no more than search for sites on Google.
The painful wait and the angry to-and-fro, however, were declared to be coming to an end yesterday as council chiefs explained how the scheme will work. Camden will sell, at a reduced rate, the Wren Street site to the Department for Education, which has given a “positive indication” that the deal will go through. Education secretary Michael Gove’s department would then hand the site to the Institute of Education, which will take charge of the new school and use it as a “university training school”.
The IoE has been working with the parent-led Where Is My School? campaign. There have been calls for a new school south of the Euston Road for more than three decades but the campaign was taken up a gear by families eight years ago, even though many of those who have campaigned for a school knew they might not see their own children taught there.
Cllr Mason said: “The idea is that the new school will be a training school with the Institute of Education. So it will be a hotbed of learning and new ideas. It will be something that can provide something more to Camden.” She added that the council had three years to fine-tune its admissions system and scan pupil projections.
It has been suggested by some that, now the UCL Academy has opened, a ripple effect will diminish demand. However councillors believe it is time to stop splitting up communities at secondary school age, with large percentages heading to private school or out of the borough, in the absence of a nearby option.
Council leader Councillor Sarah Hayward said: “The receipt from the sale will go back into the Community Investment Programme, which will be a benefit to all schools for repairs. “And this will be a new school which will work with the current family of schools in Camden, where there is an established spirit of working together. The IoE already does work in Camden schools and it is a popular choice. We are delivering a manifesto pledge here.”
Only six weeks ago, Conservative rivals were questioning council chiefs for their apparent inaction over school places in the area during a flare-up at a full council meeting. Tories said the council was failing families in that part of the borough. Labour members knew then that a deal was in the pipeline at that stage, but did not elaborate further while negotiations were continuing.
In the search for a site, the New Journal revealed last year that Bidborough House, the council offices next to Euston Road, were under consideration as a site. The plug was pulled on the idea after further sizing up. The Wren Street site will include a play area and the school is looking to nearby Coram’s Fields as a possible site for activities. Already there are suggestions that the new school could work with the expanding Regent High in Somers Town, the former South Camden Community School. “We have an innovative project that shares staff between Camden schools and the IoE to support teacher development,” said Rosemary Leeke, head at Regent High. “I am looking forward to developing this project to form the basis of future close working across all Camden schools and the university training school.”
Privately, some councillors and officials were worried that the project may have been derailed by philosopher AC Grayling’s stated ambition to open a secondary school on similar lines to the New College of Humanities university, launched in Bloomsbury last year. His idea was launched in the press before any discussion with the council, which was already working behind the scenes with the IoE. It is understood that at one stage there was a fear that if Professor Grayling had put a fixed deal in place with the government for a new school, the Department of Education would not have met the council’s Wren Street plan with such warmth.
Cllr Hayward said: “We don’t think the government would approve two new schools in the area, so we want to get this project going.”
Leader of the Opposition Lib Dem Councillor Keith Moffitt said: “I’m not going to knock it. It is welcome news. It was our administration which earmarked the site for a school after decades of Labour doing nothing for families there.”
Conservative leader Councillor Claire-Louise Leyland said: “It is welcome to hear but I’m not so clear why they needed to be so secretive about it. That’s why we were asking about it. It seems strange locally that Labour has been so against free schools when they can offer something new. There are so many different needs for children and you would think they supported the idea of help and a range of school choices.”
An IoE statement said: “The proposal to establish a University Training School (UTS) in this part of Camden has the potential to provide an opportunity for an innovative approach to school provision and teacher training and would offer children the opportunity to be taught by teachers at the forefront of practice. The IoE has a range of close relations with Camden secondary schools and any development with regard to plans south of the Euston Road would be in the context of those relationships.”
Camden New Journal COMMENT:
Published: 27 June, 2013
THE most uplifting news for many years is the announcement by Councillor Angela Mason that a secondary school will, at last, be built in the south of the borough.
Campaigns for a better Camden are often started with great gusto by conscientious citizens – only to fail along the way.
This is not necessarily due to any failing of the campaigners.
Foot-dragging officialdom, unimaginative bureaucrats, the sheer weight of indifference by the general public – all these factors play a part. In the process the heads of campaigners go down, and the very heart of living democracy is damaged, to the point where ruinous apathy begins to get a grip.
For more than a generation, civic-minded residents of Bloomsbury, King’s Cross and Holborn have thought, argued and pleaded for a secondary school in the south.
It has been such an obvious lack in the area.
It has stared families in the face for so long, families who had to send their children northwards to other schools in Camden, that they assumed the powers-that-be would see it as well. But the policy makers were blind.
At last, at long last, however, the campaigners have won through in their long march towards the big prize!
Enthusiastically, this newspaper has been only too glad to support the campaigners.
Though the new dawn will come too late for many campaigners whose children had to be shipped off elsewhere, we know they are pleased that all their efforts paid off!