By RICHARD OSLEY
Published in CNJ 12 Mar 2015
PRIME Minister David Cameron promised to open 500 new free schools across the country on the same day that his government dashed the hopes of parents campaigning for a new secondary in Holborn.
Families living south of the Euston Road have spent 10 years campaigning for a new school, but had the door slammed in their faces on Tuesday when the Department for Education rejected their application for a new school in Wren Street.
The final pieces of the jigsaw seemed to have fallen into place for the parent-led campaign when the Town Hall agreed last year to their suggestion that workshops and studio premises in Wren Street could be used for a new school.
But campaigners have now been told that their application will not be among the waves of new free schools backed by the Conservative-led government.
The plan for the Holborn school was to meet a long-argued need for school places in the southern wards, where research suggests the neighbourhood becomes split as parents search for somewhere to send their children.
In the 2013/2014 round of admissions, The Holborn School’s researchers found that almost 40 per cent of children in the area were not offered a place at a Camden school, while the other three-fifths became scattered across 29 schools in 11 different boroughs.
These figures are used whenever sceptics say that the recent opening of the UCL Academy in Swiss Cottage has had such a domino effect on admissions that the need is no longer there. It remains a source of frustration that the university-sponsored school was not placed closer to its Bloomsbury base. Campaigner Emma Jones’s children were at primary school when she helped kickstart the campaign: one is now at university, the other is preparing for GCSEs.
“It is obviously disappointing and incredibly frustrating, but we have to keep asking the question: why not, why can’t the children living in this part of Camden have the same opportunity, the same access to a good, local school?” she said. “The fight will go on until we get there, but we do have to come together and discuss what the future of the campaign will be. It’s grown over the years – people join and get involved as they come up against the same problem. It feels like they’re asking us to start again when we have demonstrated for so long, on so many occasions, that there is the need here.”
She added: “The department says it is a competitive process, one free school application competing against another, but if the need is there, the need is there, it doesn’t compete with another area of the country because every child deserves the same.”
The rejection came as a government press release promised a “landmark wave of free schools” on Tuesday. In a press conference, Mr Cameron added that hundreds of new schools would “mean more opportunities” for pupils, while his education secretary Nicky Morgan added: “Children for generations will be able to benefit from a place at a free school.”
Camden’s schools chief Councillor Angela Mason said: “It makes a mockery of the government’s announcement of more free schools this week which amounts to ‘free schools, but only if your face fits’.”
Camden Conservative leader Claire-Louise Leyland said it was “disappointing” and that she had supported the local campaign, lobbying Ms Morgan.
The Department for Education said: “In what is a competitive process, we are only able to support the applications which best align with the aims of the free schools programme,” adding that school places were available “within a commutable distance”.