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History teaches us why we must keep schools open

22 November, 2019

Sir Michael Palin

WE welcome the intervention of Sir Michael Palin in the campaign against the closure of Carlton primary school.

He raises the obvious point that appears to have been lost on education planners: that low birthrate figures and falling rolls are unlikely to last.

Demand will surely rise when new housing projects – and many are planned in the catchment area – are complete.

To close a school seems a drastic, knee-jerk reaction to what may prove to be a statistical blip. Schools chiefs would do well to consider the impact of cuts to the NHS over the past decade.

In 2011, more than 100 mental healthcare beds were removed from Camden hospitals. At that time, officials claimed demand had fallen because of advances in community care. There was no longer a need to fund so many beds for mental health patients, officials claimed.

Four years later, demand for psychiatric inpatient care was at an all-time peak and the NHS was forced to waste millions hiring beds from private institutions.

What happens when the need for school places rises again?

The long-running saga over Abacus School – which this week saw its application rejected by the council for the second time – highlights precisely this point.

Eight years ago, Camden parents were campaigning for more schools to open because of a school places crisis.

The council was forced to open bulge classes as part of an expansion programme.

A new school was built in West Hampstead.

Parents in Belsize took to the streets in outrage at having to send their children to schools on the other side of the borough.

Today, the climate has changed and there is no longer such a pressing need for Abacus. But who can confidently say that in 10 years’ time parents in NW5 will not be angrily demanding change again?

What we need are elected representatives with vision.

We need councillors who do not simply carry out directives and orders from central government. No more of this constant obedience.

The NHS was created by people with a vision who were laughed out of court when it was first proposed.

We should be getting people to think seriously about the future of private schools.

Expertise suggests small­er classrooms lead to a better, more rounded education.

Why is this just afforded to the offspring of wealthy parents in fee-paying schools? Why can’t this be provided to Carlton children, at least until the numbers rise again?

Human beings were not meant to be herded 30 at a time into a classroom. But we’ve got used to it. Just as we got used to workhouse conditions of the 19th century.

Councillors should be campaigning for it and bringing it up at meetings.

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