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Carlton parents’ vote has been ignored

Consultation over school closure has been deeply flawed, says parent Shoda Rackal

07 January, 2021 — By Shoda Rackal

Campaigners against closure of the Kentish Town school, including Shoda Rackal, far right

I AM a mother of mixed Caribbean heritage, I have four children, two in employment, one at secondary school, a music scholar who was inspired by her music teacher at Carlton, and my youngest is presently at Carlton Primary School.

I am disgusted and enraged that Camden Council has voted to close Carlton as an entity.

In autumn 2019 the parent action group set up an online petition to keep the school open; 1,678 people signed it.

In March 2020 the government declared a lockdown and that we were in a pandemic. Families have been isolating, caring for children, some with additional needs, and elderly members in the family.

Around 66 per cent of families at Carlton are from a BAME background and speak their mother tongue at home.

It was estimated around 25 per cent of families didn’t have a device for remote learning. Reopening in September after almost six months of online learning for these very young pupils was an anxious time for many families.

There was a real feeling of fear at the school gate and it was only gradually that confidence grew and numbers increased, by the staff’s organisation of “bubble” groups together with hygiene guidelines, which helped to ease the trepidation that families felt.

The council held their consultation to close the school from September 28 to November 16 on the school site for seven weeks.

Mothers were obviously anxious about taking part during a pandemic and then filling in the questionnaire.

Language barriers, work, and caring commitments, together with a feeling that they would not be listened to, meant not many parents / carers could attend.

The Carlton Action Group (CAG) asked for translators to be available to improve this situation.

Some meetings were at 5pm, again an awkward time for families preparing an evening meal. Printing the questionnaire in Sylheti or Somali was not useful for those who didn’t read in their mother tongue.

The result of this woeful, flawed, consultation by the council was that only 17 replies came from Carlton parents / carers, of which two were from Bengali families.

It didn’t accurately reflect the strength of feeling among Carlton families or engage effectively with our Bangladeshi or Somali communities against the closure.

The CAG, however, held a parents’ poll over three days, December 7 to 9, at the school gate where 122 votes were cast and 116 voted against closure and that the decision should be postponed for another year, given the extraordinary circumstances.

Also, for just one hour on the morning of December 12, over 130 signatures were gained against the school’s closure by Single Mothers’ Self-Defence, based at the Crossroads Women’s Centre in Kentish Town.

Mothers, fathers, and carers are not being listened to and the official consultation clearly reflects this and should be scrapped.

At council cabinet on December 16 Jess Wren, chair of governors, was in full agreement with the council’s proposal for merger. She did not refer to the flawed nature of the consultation or to the ballot held by the CAG. She made no contact with CAG.

She claimed the governors originally suggested using the Carlton building for early years and incorporating the Gospel Oak nursery onto the Carlton site; sharing the building as a one-form entry school and Sure Start and early years support services.

At no point did she mention that these ideas had originally been developed by the CAG. While we are happy to see our ideas used, we feel that it would have been courteous to acknowledge the origins of these ideas rather than to claim them.

I called the consultation “racist” in that it had canvassed the views of 70 per cent of white respondents but had not been able, or willing, to properly engage with the views of the majority of parents from a black and ethnic minority background.

At the school gate the next day parents were furious and used terms such as “traitors” and “untrustworthy” to describe the governors.

The parents’ vote had been “ignored”. Camden has disregarded and ignored families’ express wishes and been racist in its failure to consult with BAME communities adequately.

We are now in a worsening health crisis and again have to encourage our children to homeschool.

The CAG should have meaningful involvement in the school’s future and have the “Alternative Proposal” adequately budgeted and fully considered as a one-form entry school – to avoid closure of our much-needed school and further mental, physical, and long-lasting disruption to our young children’s lives.

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