Town Hall to discuss primary school mergers
Call for clarity over proposals as falling pupil admissions put teaching jobs under threat
30 July, 2020 — By Helen Chapman
St Michael’s is set to be merger with Our Lady’s
URGENT meetings are being held about merger plans and potential job losses ahead of crunch decisions about Camden’s school places crisis.
Councillors are due to look at the proposals within weeks on a series of primary schools due to a falling number of applications. Camden is proposing to close 137-year-old Carlton Primary School in Grafton Road – near Queen’s Crescent – and expand nearby Rhyl Primary to take in extra children.
Meanwhile in Camden Town, St Michael’s Primary School would merge with Our Lady’s, although they already share a site in Camden Street.
Other schools will see their capacity reduced: Netley in Regent’s Park, Argyle in King’s Cross and St Dominic’s in Gospel Oak.
All of the plans are now scheduled to go before Camden’s cabinet, the 10 most senior councillors in the ruling Labour group at the Town Hall, on September 3.
Carlton Primary School
They are likely to send out proposals to consultation surveys with staff and parents before a final decision next March.
It follows more than a year of warnings about how schools were struggling to fill up, with the problem – due to a lower birth rate and the changing nature of Camden’s housing market – highlighted as far back as April last year.
St Aloysius’s in Somers Town became the first primary school in Camden to close down last year.
Sally Kellner, a carer and a campaigner against Carlton’s closure, said: “It is important that the staff feel they can remain at Carlton on their normal salaries for as long as the children need them. We do not wish them to be worrying about the closure of Carlton and the consequence redundancies the staff would face.”
She added: “If teachers and staff are in the middle of trying to help the children come back to school after a difficult six months then it only makes sense for the meeting to be delayed until October. It is not just about the children and the families but it is the staff as well. It is the interaction of the staff with children that makes the school so special.”
Carlton had proposed alternative ways to use its Victorian building in order to keep the school running.
Labour councillor Jenny Mulholland, who is now a governor at Carlton, said: “There is still a lot that is unknown. All the teachers just want an answer on what these proposals are going to look like.”
Parents and governors have raised concerns around how the consultation will be made fair and accessible to those parents for whom English is their second language, or who do not have computer access at home.
Councillor Jenny Mulholland
Cllr Mulholland added: “The teachers need some level of answers before then. They need to know what is going to happen with their jobs. It is important this is not sewn up as a done deal. It is important we find a way to reach people through the digital divide.”
She added: “Schools are having to coach families how to log on to online schooling systems. There is a lack of digital skills within families. People from minority backgrounds have heard the news of how they are more affected by coronavirus, more at risk of dying, so are not going out at all.”
The council have appointed a project manager to liaise between Carlton and the council ahead of the consultation expected by the end of the year.
Shoda Rackal from the Parents at Carlton Action Group said: “We don’t want to lose our teachers and we don’t need the merger. We have the perfect venue – we have space to socially distance the children. The smaller numbers work perfectly for the space we have separate entrances and wide corridors.”
A Camden Council spokesperson said: “Any consultation relating to our schools could only begin after a public Cabinet decision and only when we are confident that meaningful public engagement could also take place.
“This includes ensuring that a consultation is fully accessible, online and offline, and that language support is available to those who may not speak English as their first language. Furthermore, we will ensure that all relevant parties receive significant notice prior to any council decision-making.”
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