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The new Islington Free School.

Ashmount Primary School is a Community School in the London Borough of Islington, it is a highly diverse school with a higher than average proportion of children on free school meals. It is rated “good” by OFSTED under the current criteria. It was a good school in a terrible building. An early example of modernism, (built 1957) clad entirely in glass, very cold in winter – the most expensive school of its size to heat in London – and very hot in summer, and now wearing out and falling part.

Islington Council decided in the end, on finding that refurbishment was just not cost effective, to move the school to a new building nearby. A decision supported by two thirds of residents in an official consultation, and by 90 per cent of the parents who had experience of the old building.

Islington expected to raise at least some of the cost by selling the old site, at a discounted price to a housing association. They thought they would get about 3 million, but if sold on the open market, the site large, and in between Highgate and Crouch End would have raised ten million. The Council were in effect making a political decision to sacrifice money for social housing. Housing which they had promised to build in their election manifesto on which they had successfully defeated the outgoing Liberal democrat administration.

When they proposed this change of use for the site, from being a school to housing, an Independent Government planning Inspector commented:-

“Having carefully considered the question of educational need, I am satisfied that the Council’s evidence on this issue is robust and clearly demonstrates that the loss of this site for educational use will not undermine the future provision of school places either in Islington or in the adjacent London Borough of Haringey. Furthermore it is clear that refurbishment of the school buildings has been thoroughly investigated and has led to the conclusion that they cannot be easily adapted to meet modern educational standards. I conclude that the allocation is supported by robust evidence on the provision of educational accommodation.”

The overall conclusion of the Inspector was that the allocation of the Ashmount site “for residential and community use, including open space” was “justified, consistent with national policy and effective…”

However, as the Inspector observed “it (the site) remains in education use until permission has been granted for a change of use by the Secretary of State for Education.”

Today it was learnt that the Education Funding Agency has chosen to requisition the old Ashmount Site from Islington Council, which they have the power to do, without paying any compensation to the Council.

The site is to be transferred without charge to private ownership; the site will be given to Bellevue Education Limited for a Free School. Bellevue Education Ltd is a commercial (for profit) company, which runs a chain of nine for profit fee paying schools here, and in Switzerland.  Bellevue made profits last year of £1.5m on a turnover of £3.7m, so it’s what I believe one would call “a nice little business”.  Although if you want to rush out and buy some shares you cannot at the moment as they are not publically listed. Instead the investors are venture capitalists based in Switzerland using Russian money. Perhaps there will be a flotation at some point in the future. I am sure we will be all poised to add a bit of diversity to our share portfolios.

This decision will have some consequences for Ashmount, and indeed other schools in Islington.

1. First the capital account for Islington schools is now short by 3 million pounds. This was the, rather conservative figure, that Islington had assumed would be available from selling the site, at a special low price, to a housing association. It might well have been more. Consequently all Islington schools will experience a further cut in capital allocations. This is, in accounting terms, a straightforward transfer of capital resources from all the community schools in Islington to Bellevue Education Ltd. Ashmount will be less affected than some of our colleagues in the short run as our building is new. So one would hope that for a few years at least our capital requirements will be low.

2. From 2014 there will be an additional 58 places at reception in this area. All the indications from actual admissions figures this year is that certainly in 2014 there will be a significant surplus of places created in the immediate area. This could have the effect of intensifying competition between schools as there may not be enough school pupils to go around. The Free School website states that it will use the same admissions system and criteria as other islington Schools so the schools likely to notice this are, (In order of distance from the old Ashmount site) Hargrave Park, Highgate Primary, Coleridge School, and furthest away, Ashmount. (Incidentally going by the photographs on the school web site they appear to expect that all their children will be white…ref 3).

However it would be rash to jump to any conclusions about this as the Free School, at least in its first year may have significant difficulties in recruiting pupils. We know from the experience of other Free Schools that where they have been set up in areas where there are surplus school places that, untried as they are, parents are nervous of them. By definition they have no track record of any kind, no parental opinions, Ofsteds, or SATS. In this particular case there is also the issue of the building. It was left i because it was terrible. It was left because we knew that even spending millions of pounds one still ends up with a building which we thought not good enough for our children. We also know there were people in significant numbers who would not send their children to Ashmount because of the building. Our undersubscription only stopped when the move to the new building was fully confirmed. So it does seem that even if they work out a way to clean the windows, that there is an issue here.

On the other hand Bellevue Education may be willing to invest some of their own resources in marketing; were they to choose to do so they could certainly outspend any community school. A reason why they might do so is related to the otherwise puzzling point as to why Bellevue Education are interested in getting involved in running a Free Primary School from which they are not allowed to make a profit. The obvious answer is that the Conservatives believe that state schools should be allowed to be owned and run by profit making companies, on a profit making basis. This is not allowed at present, because the Liberal Democrats do not agree,. However Mr Gove has promised a number of times that should the Conservatives be elected to Government in the next election, fixed for the summer of 2015, when the Free School will have been open for less than a year, the law will be changed to allow Free Schools to be run at a profit. Bellevue Education could well feel that the old Ashmount Site represents a useful speculation.

I would be interested in any comments, or further information, anyone might have.

David Barry is a governor at Ashmount Primary School.


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  1. As someone who used to work in the area and knows it very well I am astonished that this has been allowed to happen. Putting aside the political and budget ramifications for Islington at large, I know very well the thought that went into moving the school in the first place. The building, the community, the school places available and, of course, the safety of the children were all considered greatly. This is a prime example of a local community not being listened to – political point scoring?

  2. Having taught at the school I know only too well that the building is not fit for purpose – windows that don’t close and can’t be cleaned, glass on all sides making it unbearably hot in summer and freezing cold in winter. Not to mention the asbestos. But the huge site is worth millions and if Gove gets his way Bellevue and Place will be looking at reaping a massive profit at the expense of taxpayers and other Islington schools. This is the privatisation of education in a nutshell. We have to fight this all the way. Who’s up for a campaifn?

    • Yup! Agree completely Celia, it really needs a wider audience!

      • Public Meeting.

        Support Our Local Schools

        Should a free school open in Hornsey Lane?

        Chair: Jeremy Corbyn MP
        Speakers: Pana McGee, Headteacher,
        Ashmount School; Councillor Joe Caluori,
        Executive Member for Children and Families
        at LB Islington; David Barry, outgoing chair
        of Governors, Ashmount School and local
        resident; Barrie O’Shea, Headteacher,
        Duncombe School and Julie Davies,
        Secretary, Haringey NUT

        7pm Thursday 24th October
        Church Hall, Christ Church, Crouch End Hill, N8

        • yes; its tomorrow!

        • This press report in the “Islington Tribune”

          “Free school meeting anger

          THE huge row over the free school – described as a “an ideological gamble” by council leader Richard Watts – planned for the site continued last night, with a public meeting called by campaigners, parents and teachers to fight plans by private companies Bellvue Education and Place Group to take over the Hornsey Lane building.

          Education secretary Michael Gove has already given the companies permission to open a school – now they are lobbying for it to be on the Ashmount site, even going so far as to name the proposed school Whitehall Park, after the local area.

          If they are successful the Town Hall will lose £3m it was relying on from the sale of the site to a housing association.

          At last night’s meeting, chaired by Islington North MP Jeremy Corbyn, parents questioned the assertion that there was not a shortage of primary school places in the area and criticised the council for allowing the school building to be lost to housing.

          “Once it is gone we we’ll never get it back,” one said.

          But there was also a lot of hostility to the free school which Cllr Watts said would take money away from other schools and create a divided borough. “I will not let the quality of our schools be affected by this ideological gamble,” he said.

          A full report of the meeting will appear in next week’s Tribune.”

    • Thank you David for drawing this appalling story to our attention. I have just looked at the schools website – they appear to be still advertising for “customers”. So much for those parent promoters.Good luck with Ashmount. I hope your school goes from strength to strength in spite of the government’s best efforts to undermine it.

      • I dont expect Ashmount will be particularly undermined actually. Its a really good school and because it is now very close to another well regarded school, Coleridge, in Haringey most parents have a choice between both schools, Some choose one, some the other. The two schools certainly compete for pupils, and we are both used to that. My concern is as a local resident seeing a public asset, land, transferred without charge, to a private, profit making company. Its like requisitioning a park, and handing it to a developer free of charge. Note (incredibly) its not compulsory purchase we are talking of, but requisition. At least when public assets were privatised in the past they were sold to private owners, not just handed over.

    • Annie Powell says:

      I am!!

  3. Annie Powell says:

    David, has the governing body and/or the council been able to access legal advice on this? It seems like such an egregious use of the requisitioning power by the DfE- to take state land and to give it for free to a private company – that I wonder whether a judicial review of the decision might be possible.

    • The land – the old school site -is owned by the Council. So when the school moved from it, it was entirely, or so one would have thought, up to the council what happened to it. The Governing Body of the school has nothing to say about it, or any legal standing – why would it, it has enough to be getting on with running the school, in a very fine new building on a parkland site.

      • So the people with a grievance are not the school in particular, although all Islington Schools loose out due to the loss of at least 3 million in capital funding. As Ashmount is in the privileged position of having just moved into a fine new building, last January it really ought not to need capital funding for a while. So Ashmount probably does not suffer. It is other schools in Islington in need of repair. There are also children at Ashmount living in overcrowded conditions, who will not now be rehoused.

        • Annie Powell says:

          Ah ok, sorry I missed that you’ve already moved building. By legal title I meant freehold (sorry that wasn’t clear). Giving a lease of 125 years for free to Bellevue will be almost as valuable as transferring the freehold for free – appalling. Really excellent article by the way!

        • Regarding Judicial Review it would be for Islington to do that. No doubt Islington legal department will be advising the Council Executive.

  4. Annie Powell says:

    Having gone through this again, I just wanted to check something: where you say ‘The site is to be transferred without charge to private ownership; the site will be given to Bellevue Education Limited for a Free School’, do you mean that the land will be given to Bellevue Education Limited for use but will still be owned by the Council, or will legal title to the land be transferred to Bellevue Education Limited? Obviously both are outrageous, but the latter much more so. Thanks.

    • I am not a land lawyer, but I understand it is a standard arrangement for transferring a site from a local authority to a Free School. The freehold remains with the council, but a 125 year lease at a “peppercorn” rent is issued to the Free School. I am not sure what you mean by “legal title”. Maybe someone else can advise.

      • Barry Wise says:

        David Barry/ Annie Powell

        David – I think you may have got a few things wrong here. The free school (together with another one in south London) are not being opened by private companies but by an Academy Trust (which is a charity).

        Bellevue Education and Place Group are both sponsors of Bellevue Place Education Trust . This is an independent, not-for-profit like all other academy trusts/chains. If any land interest does pass to the free school, it would pass to the charitable trust, not to any commercial entity and no-one could now or later sell it for private profit. As you say, the usual practice is for the LA to keep the freehold and lease it to the academy test on a peppercorn rent.

        There seems to me no difference between what is happening here and what happens with a Harris school. When Harris takes over a school, the land doesn’t go to the carpet company or to Lord Harris’s personal portfolio. It passes into the controlof the Harris Federation – an education charity. The Bellevue Place Education Trust is essentially the same.

        I am rather surprised that there is such resistance on this site to the establishment of a primary free school in London – hardly a day passes but we hear about the massive primary places shortage in the capital and the need for hundreds of thousand of new places by 2017.

        Perhaps it is true that Islington is unique in not having a need for any further places, but somehow I doubt it. Has Islington applied for any basic needs funding?

        On the whole, I am against land/buildings with an “educational use” designation being sold off by councils to residential developers. London’s population is sure to rise in the long term, and once you get rid of educational use properties, you will have to pay massively more to get any development land back in the years to come.

        Frankly, I can’t see what the fuss is about here: if more primary places are needed, this seems a quick and thrifty way of supplying them.

        • Annie Powell says:


          1. Who owns/controls the academy trust – Bellevue Education Limited?

          2. It’s clear from the Independent Planning Inspector’s report that the change of land use would not put pressure on school places. There clearly is a need for social housing in Islington, however.

          3. If this is standard – DfE taking land from local authorities with no compensation to be used for schools that are not needed – then I’m even more worried than I was before.

          • Barry Wise says:


            An academy trust cannot be “owned” by a private interest and is controlled by its trustees, like any other charity. The trustees are usually the governors of the school.

            I’m afraid Barry has got this completely wrong about the land being given to Bellevue. The arrangement here will be the same as for any other academy school and Barry risks looking rather silly for promoting all this alarmism and suggesting some financially underhand or crooked is going on.

            I personally don’t know the area well, but from Googling it is clear that there are local residents who want the new free school and who claim it is very hard to get kids places locally.

            See, for example, the comments here from last December about how Whitehall Park families can’t get into local schools and are told by the council they have to travel to the other end of the borough:


            As for land decisions, I think the rule is that a council cannot sell off/change the use of land away from education use without DfE’s agreement. DfE only agrees is there is no/little prospect of the land being wanted for education in the foreseeable future. In this case, it’s clear that DfE was right to refuse because there is a foreseeable edu use – the free school. The question of compensation doesn’t enter into it. If the land was a school before (which it was) then it would have been purchased in the first place with money from the government’s capital budget for schools.

          • Barry (Wise) says:

            “I’m afraid Barry has got this completely wrong about the land being given to Bellevue.”

            Completely? Really? The land is being transferred to a special purpose vehicle controlled by Bellevue is what you have told me – grateful for the clarification, always willing to learn – but does that really make me “completely” wrong?
            You write

            “The arrangement here will be the same as for any other academy school”

            No only for any other Academy school controlled by a for profit company. Are there many of those by the way? And your point is?

            You write

            “and Barry risks looking rather silly for promoting all this alarmism”

            Calling me “silly” and “alarmist” is not an argument just comes across as petty. And while we are on that why have you suddenly started calling me by my surname.? Not that I mind. I think I prefer the formallity.

            You write:

            “And suggesting some financially underhand or crooked is going on. -”

            Actually I suggested no such thing. Something deplorable yes, but its all been done in accordance with the law and Bellevue are very open about what they are about, with lots of relevant info on their websites etc.

          • Barry (Wise)

            You wrote

            “I personally don’t know the area well, but from Googling it is clear that there are local residents who want the new free school and who claim it is very hard to get kids places locally.

            “See, for example, the comments here from last December about how Whitehall Park families can’t get into local schools and are told by the council they have to travel to the other end of the borough:


            The key statement made at the time was: “One of those children, … [refused by both Ashmount and Coleridge] … who lives very close indeed to the old Ashmount school, has been offered a place at a school in Copenhagen Street”.

            No, they had not. I checked at the time with admissions in Islington. (I checked because the story seemed odd to me). The system these days is that school admissions is run on a London-wide basis. Parents can apply for up to six schools in order of their preference.
            There was no case of a child who was an applicant for Ashmount and Coleridge who was offered a place at Copenhagen school. It did not happen. The records were searched by Islington Officers. Note that the applications are processed independently of Islington.

            The statement was untrue. It seems to have been made up.

          • Barry (Wise)

            You wrote

            “The question of compensation doesn’t enter into it. If the land was a school before (which it was) then it would have been purchased in the first place with money from the government’s capital budget for schools.”

            Yes , it was bought with public money. It was bought by the London County Council with money raised from rates. The site has value. And now it is proposed to transfer this land to the use of a private party. So as no compensation is paid, the asset is being transferred for Islington the last of the public bodies to hold it, to a private, profit making company.

        • Dear Barry (Wise),

          Mistakes are always possible, and I certainly make them, but so far I do not see that you have shown me in error. But none the less you make a number of good points, which within the limits of this software I will try to address, one by one.

          “The free school (together with another one in south London) are not being opened by private companies but by an Academy Trust (which is a charity). ”

          A useful clarification, but as the charity is wholly controlled by the profit making companies, I dont see the practical difference in that what I am asserting is that a publically owned asset is being transferred without financial compensation to a private entity. That the immediate entity is a trust is neither here nor there. The use of special purpose vehicles in business, particularly where land is to be developed is common. It has for example, the advantage of ring fencing risk, and of course doing it through a charity vehicle, as in this case, as the venture a school (and so capable of enjoying charity status, has significant tax advantages. There are of course disadvantages to charity status as you are not then allowed to be profit making, but as Free Schools are not, yet, allowed to be profit making that point moot.

          In the same way, in the more up market parts of London there are houses all over the place owned by special purpose vehicles registered off shore, and the use of special purpose vehicles in the entertainment industry is very common. The real owners are, of course, the people with control. So I dont believe I am in error, but I could word my claim more precisely

          “the site now publically owned is being transferred in accordance with a recent statute (so the process lawful) without any financial compensation, to a special purpose vehicle registered as a charitable trust, wholly controlled by two profit making limited companies, the predominant of which is Bellevue, which are in turn wholly controlled by their owners who are, in the main venture capitalists”

          So that is more precise, in some sense more accurate, but in practical terms apart from helping to keep the tax bill down, how is it different?

          And it still stinks.

          (I cant say whether or not there are useful parallels with the Harris Chain, maybe others will comment-but as I never mentioned Harris I can hardly be in error on that point.)

          • Barry Wise says:


            You are still failing adequately to distinguish between the people (or companies) who found a charity and the charity itself. An academy trust would be an independent person in law and its directors/trustees would have legal responsibilities to operate in the interests of the trust, not in the interests of those who set it up.

            Academies and free schools have to adopt the model articles of association prescribed by DfE. Among other things, these require a certain number of the trustees to be elected parent governors, require the headteacher to be one ex-officio and so on. So the academy trust will not be totally controlled by its founding benefactors anyway. What’s more, it will be bound by charity law and by the Academies Act. No way will Bellevue or Place be able to do anything with this land other than provide a school on it as agreed when they sign a funding agreement with DfE. Indeed, if they do misbehave and do anything prejudicial to the interests of the school, the Sec of State has powers to remove all the Bellevue/Place appointees from the board and put his own civil servants in.

          • You write

            “You are still failing adequately to distinguish between the people (or companies) who found a charity and the charity itself. ”

            Actually, I dont think I am. And I have been a charity trustee.

          • you write”

            “Among other things, these require a certain number of the trustees to be elected parent governors, require the headteacher to be one ex-officio and so on.”

            I would welcome more information and clarification about this. My understanding, which is certainly limited, and may well be in error is that:

            1. No actual number of Governors is specified, but there is by implication a minimum number.

            2. A majority of the governors (whatever that number is) MUST be appointed by the sponsoring organisation, in this case Bellevue.

            3. There must be a minimum of 2 parent governors

            4. not more than a third of governors can be staff.

            5 The Principal must be a governor.

            So the implied minimum structure would be _

            Principal, two parent governors, four nominated govenors, so total seven.

            if you had two staff and two parents then you would have five nominated governors total, nine, and so on.

            Am I right?

            And Bellvue, a limited company, for profit, with two shareholders controls the Governing Body, and so controls the appointment of the Head.

        • Barry (Wise)

          You write:

          “I am rather surprised that there is such resistance on this site to the establishment of a primary free school in London – hardly a day passes but we hear about the massive primary places shortage in the capital and the need for hundreds of thousand of new places by 2017.

          Perhaps it is true that Islington is unique in not having a need for any further places, but somehow I doubt it.”

          You should really have read my original posting more carefully because you do lay yourself open here. In my original post I quoted the report by the Government appointed independent planning inspector on the proposed change of use:

          “Having carefully considered the question of educational need, I am satisfied that the Council’s evidence on this issue is robust and clearly demonstrates that the loss of this site for educational use will not undermine the future provision of school places either in Islington or in the adjacent London Borough of Haringey”

          Yes Islington is different, and for all I know unique. Islington until this year has had years of falling rolls. Through my 17 years or so of being a school Governor I have seen Islington schools closed, merged and very often reduced in size. So most Islington schools are beneath the capacity they could physically accommodate, in the jargon, their PAN (Published Admissions Numbers ) are below their net capacity, ie the numbers that can be fitted in under the rules. That means that there is a lot of latitude to increase PAN’s at very low capital cost, if required, and it can be done fast – one starts with a bulge class. Ashmount School used to be three form entry on the old site, it was reduced to two form entry PAN 10 years or so ago. In our case we wanted to be smaller despite being fully subscribed as we thought a two form all through primary a better size to manage. Islington were glad to oblige due to the surplus place problem. (Other neighbouring schools reduced also) This meant that the old Ashmount site which dates from 1957 by being larger than minimum standards for a three form entry school, was now really capacious, and so, once vacated of even greater desirability as space.

        • Barry (Wise)

          You write:-

          “Frankly, I can’t see what the fuss is about here: if more primary places are needed, this seems a quick and thrifty way of supplying them.”

          In Islington the quick and thrifty way to provide more places os to expand those existing schools, formerly reduced in size, which as they were once bigger, can be made bigger again. Easily, Cheaply and at very short notice.

          Re using the Ashmount site because of the problems with the building is neither quick, nor thrifty. Its wearing out. Its falling apart. Its the most expensive school building for its size to heat in London. The toilets are in the wrong place…(I will stop now)

  5. Richard Wakeford says:

    If Bellevue Education eventually fails to establish a school, do they get to sell the land with consent for housing already granted by a planning inspector?

    • That a good point, Richard. And it has wider implications. You’ve already highlighted the uncertainty about who would benefit from the sale of land used for a free school. But this also applies to academies. The Government keeps boasting that just over half of England’s secondary schools are now academies but has anyone considered who would get the money if the academy decided to sell of, say, part of its playing field? Would the local authority have any say over its disposal?

      And what if, as recently nearly happened in south Lincolnshire, an academy chain wants to close one of its academies? Would the land revert back to the LA (which in this case was against the closure)? Or would the chain be able to profit from the sale of the remaining term on the lease?

      I think the law of unintended consequences may be at work here. The difficulty is trying to decide what these unintended consequences are.

      • Paul Cotterill says:

        I did look into this when my own school (Chair of Finance etc) was looking at Academy Status (we didn’t). The standard contract (actually available on the DfE website) indicates that in the event of school closure the land and buildings would revert to the DfE (not the council) and that upon sale (not sure about long lease) there would be a “negotiation” over the split in income made from that to reflect any investment by the Academy Trust.

        You can see where that might lead……..I don’t know if there’d be the same standard clauses for a free school deal, but I wouldn’t be surprised.

      • agov says:

        Is anyone surprised?

        The academies programme has always really been about looting public assets.

        Good comment over there:

        “Really surprised that this is not a joint labour and Tory programme. All of the ridiculous developments over the last two decades; devolution of funds to schools, elimination of lea’s, the academy programme etc. are all precursors to take over by the city. What is the point of funding public services from the taxpayer if the city can’t get a cut of it.”

  6. Paul Cotterill says:

    I wonder if it’s worth looking at the Register of Assets of Community Value provisions set out in the Localism Act 2011 (brief summary with a community group making a formal request to the (presumably willing) Council for the school buildings to be placed on the Register. The upshot of this is that if the owner (presumably the DfE – wants to sell the land or grant a lease of more than 25 years, then there is first a moratorium until the non-profit sector in the area has the chance to submit a bid.

    Too late if the leasehold has already been transferred, and there may be things I’ve not though through, but it may be worth a shot talking to one of the better Islington councillors about it first and asking them to get their officers’ legal view.

    • Paul – thanks for that. My reading of the “Community Right to Bid” is that a community asset (eg school, sports centre, pub) must be “listed” by the LA in order for the community to be given time to raise money to buy the asset on the open market.

      So, first of all local community organisations (eg parish council, local charities) have to nominate an asset for inclusion on the list. Secondly, the owner of the listed asset must let the LA know the asset is going to be put up for sale. Thirdly, this triggers the moratorium BUT this is only to allow locals to raise the money. They don’t have right of first refusal but must complete on the open market.

      The moral of this is that communities should start the process of “listing” such assets well before they are likely to be disposed of.

      • Paul Cotterill says:

        Janet, yes that’s the correct reading.

        Sorry, I was a bit elliptic. What I should have said is that this then might (and I stress it’s only a might) provide the opportunity to the housing association to work with the council on the submission of just such a bid. Clearly the obstacle is now that the land price is £10m, not the discounted £3m, and the fact that the DfE has taken the land back probably means that a deal can’t be done on the 2003 Local Govt Act provisions (local govt power to sell at less than market rate) unless there’s something about the timelines I don’t get, but there might be some creative way round it whereby the council subsidises the housing association for the £7m gap.

        But I agree, it’s probably a stretch too far and yes, the important principle is getting everything in site on the Register just in case.

  7. Paul Cotterill says:

    Of course a key advantage would simply be sticking a spoke in the Free School wheel for a bit, even if no-one could afford the purchase price

  8. Bellevue Education is also behind another free school set to open in Balham Youth Court in September 2013.

  9. And the CEO of Bellevue Education will be head of Rutherford House School, Balham.

  10. Bellevue Education, whose CEO Mark Malley will be head of the free school, Rutherford House, is also involved in the New School of the Humanities, a proposed free school linked with the New College of the Humanities, the private university with fees of £18,000 a year but which can’t issue its own degrees but uses the University of London international programme but is a lot cheaper if students access the programme directly.

  11. Bellevue is also involved with the Bray Free Primary School due to open in ex-prep school buildings in Bray, Maidenhead, in Septemeber 2014.

    But local council figures show that reception school numbers peaked in Maidenhead in 2013 and will fall by 2015. ONS projections suggest numbers will then begin to rise.

    The Council admits that it is trying to create a surplus of primary school places rather than just meet actual demand. This could be interpreted as building flexibility by having spare places BUT this is not an available option in local authorities where there is an increasing shortfall in the number of primary places. Authorities struggling to find sufficient primary places do not have the luxury of planning for a surplus.$FILE/meetings_130321_cab_10_year_expansion_appxA_1.pdf

    • This is all very useful stuff. It seems that Bellevue are setting up quite a chain of Free Schools. Presumably whether or not profit making as such is allowed in the future they will be able to sell services to these Free Schools? And so have a captive source of revenue?

      • David – the National Audit Office rasied concerns in 2010 about a potential conflict of interest between academies and their sponsors if academies felt under pressure to purchase supplies from firms run by sponsors.

        Academy and free school trusts are charities BUT there’s nothing to stop these charities purchasing services from any trading arm of an academy chain, for example, or outsourcing the provision of education to a for-profit provider (as Breckland free school did when it awarded a contract to IES).

        And then there’s the situation whereby a free school proposer becomes head teacher of the school (and presumably can set their own salary). In July 2011 research found that one quarter of the then proposed free schools were being set up by middle-ranking teachers who aimed to become heads. This would be very rapid promotion by passing all the usual steps such as gaining experience, getting references etc.

        • Paul Cotterill says:

          I think this is a very important point.

          When I was doing due diligence on an approach by a new Academy Trust, Bright Tribe, what stood out for me strongly were these paragraphs in the most recent (to April 2012) annual accounts of the Trust’s backing company, Equity Solutions Ltd, a firm which specialises in PFI-type instruments in the NHS (LIFT projects).

          “We view the education sector as the biggest future area of opportunity and have a programme in place to ensure we are in an appropriate position with the right services, skills and resources to respond.

          We are currently actively involved in the development of new contract structures, new estate support strategies and the development of bespoke funding and contract models for University Technical Colleges, Academies and Free Schools.

          At a national level we are working closely with the No10 education team, HM treasury and the Baker Dearing Trust to review appropriate lease and procurement structures based on the LIFT model.”

          So this is a debt-based development company setting up two small, effectively ‘shell’ charitable organisations (one called Helping Hands, forgotten name of other) to form the constituent parts of the Academy Trust Bright Tribe, with a seemingly clear and documented intention to profit from the process.

          Of course the political agnostic might see this as fair enough if it gets the job done in terms of educations standards etc etc, and such relationships may well not affect judgment on whether to go with Bright Tribe as the best Academy offer, but it doesn’t seem a wholly transparent process and I wouldn’t have known had I not done reasonable due diligence as a governor (to be fair to Bright Tribe staff – the key ones of whom are seconded over from Equity Solutions – they don’t seek to deny the link, but as they’re all in the same offices this would be tricky anyway)

          • Paul – this is a comment on an investment website from 2011 about Wey Education:

            “Firstly, the UK market for education is massive. According to estimates from the company [Wey Education], the government currently spends around GBP16.8 billion per annum on secondary schools and GBP15.2 billion on primary schools…In addition, the firm has good opportunities to take advantage of recent changes made by the Coalition government which will allow for more private sector involvement in state funded schools.”


            It’s obvious that private firms want to get their hands on some of that money. What better way than operating a chain of schools which is then tied in to the services offered by trading companies linked to the trustees of the schools.

            This may not be the best value for money as the National Audit Office recognised.

  12. In 2011 Islington Council figures showed a projected surplus of 304 primary school places across Islington by 2019, with demand levelling off from 2017 onwards. There would be sufficient capacity up until 2017. The Council wrote at the time:

    “Although a small number of additional places may be needed after 2017, the council considers that there is ample scope to expand or reintroduce places within other existing schools in the area.”

    There are primary shortage hotspots in London but, according to the New Schools Network, Islington does not appear in the top twenty LAs needing primary places by 2014/15.

    So, it appears that Islington Free School may be yet another free school which is being proposed in an area where it is not needed.

    • Barry Wise says:

      The area this free school will be in is v close to the border of neighbouring Haringey, which has an acute shortage. The 2012 Haringey place planning report says:

      reception place demand in the borough is projected to rise: indeed reception demand was at its highest on record forthe academic year 2011/12 and we continue to seek ways to meet the challenge of providing a reception place for every child who requires one in our borough.Demand for reception places in 2012/13 has once again risen

      The Haringey report also notes that the DfE recommends a 5% surplus be maintained to allow for mobility, in-year admissions etc. and to ensure choice.
      The link you give, Janet, to the Islington paper shows that all the local wards will be well below the frictional 5% from 2014.

      The primary places crisis in London is so dire that I really don’t think opposing new primaries is sensible. It is amazingly hard to find land for schools in London, so even if this site is in Islington, it should be kept for educational use to serve Haringey if necessary. Allowing education sites to pass out of educational use is short-sighted. Eventually new schools are bound to be needed.
      to exceed the demand that we saw in 2011/12.

      • yes Haringey has a place shortage. But it is not near the old Ashmount site.

        • The place shortage is not near the old site , I meant, not that Haringey is not near the old site!

        • Latest information this week from Haringey admissions for the area nearest the old Ashmount site.

          1. In the area of Highgate, Crouch End, Hornsey, Stroud Green (served by these schools Campsbourne Infants, Coleridge Primary, Highgate Primary, Rokesly Infants, St Aidan’s, St Mary’s CE Primary, St Michael’s CE Primary N6, St Peter in Chains RC Infants, Stroud Green,Weston Park.) all applicants now have a place and there are three reception places unfilled. So no shortage of places this year, now confirmed.

          2. The number of applicants, in each year showed a clear trend of increasing each year from 625 (in 2007) to a peak of 700 in (2011) and has now fallen in two successive years to this years total of 629.

          3. During this time the supply of places increased by 90, which is why although there was a place shortage in 2007 on 625 applicants, there is none this year on 629.

          Latest information for Islington Admissions, is less detailed, but all children now have a place and there are five reception places unfilled.

      • Barry – increasing the number of places in a local authority which has surplus places in order to find places for children from a neighbouring authority is fraught with problems. For example:

        Local authority 1 has surplus places. Neighbouring LA 2 has a shortfall. A free school opens in LA 1 near the border. But LA 1 now has a problem. LAs have a statutory duty to manage school places. If it has too many surplus places then schools will have to close. LA 1 now finds itself with excess capacity of, say, a two form entry primary school. It can’t shut the free school – it doesn’t have the power. So it has to close one of its maintained school which would be unpopular with parents.

        So, children in LA 1 would now fill the free school and LA 2 would still have a shortfall.

        So, if Haringey needs places then this is where a school should be set up. It’s a pity that councils can no longer set up their own school because new schools must be academies or free schools. That said, the document you linked said that Haringey could consider bulge classes because that’s the quickest, easiest and most flexible answer to fluctuating demand.

  13. Barry (Wise) you write:

    “On the whole, I am against land/buildings with an “educational use” designation being sold off by councils to residential developers. London’s population is sure to rise in the long term, and once you get rid of educational use properties, you will have to pay massively more to get any development land back in the years to come.”

    This seems by far your best point, and I am very sympathetic to it. I would point out tho’ that what the Council wanted to do was have the land used for social housing, of which there is a great shortage in Islington, actually its the overcrowding thats the problem really, rather than “selling to developers” Most people would see the distinction as important.

    However the quantitative evidence from school admissions this year, combined with my own rather hit and miss qualitative research which is consistent with the admissions numbers indicate the demand is just not there.

  14. Barry Wise says:


    What was your admissions experience this year? Oversubscribed or under-subscribed?

    Did you turn anyone away? How big/small is your catchment radius? Could all the families in the Whitehall Park area who would have been within catchment on your old site qualify for your new site?

    The thing is, I doubt if Swiss venture capital types would want to start a school there if they hadn’t already tested the demand. According to one of the local newspapers there were 2 free school applications for this area but only one got through the selection process. The loser was reported to have got 1,200 signatures. Presumably the winner must have had some convincing evidence to get DfE approval.

    • Theses last are also Good questions. The answers will illustrate the situation nicely, even though I will have to do without a map.

      You wrote “What was your admissions experience this year? Oversubscribed or under-subscribed?

      Over subscribed. The third year in a row. What changed three years ago was that the move from the old building to the new building was confirmed. People immediately responded to this, and were willing to put up with the old building for a while. This point is relevant as Bellevue say they intend to use the old building. As we could not fill due to the building how will they? And remember as we have only moved a small distance the Free School adds 58 extra places, so all things being equal all schools in the area, in principle will find it harder to fill. In practice where there is a surplus of places in an area it tends to concentrate – the surplus places are not spread around evenly.

      You wrote

      “Did you turn anyone away?” the school did not “turn anyone away” because in London there is a pan London admissions scheme or clearing house. Parents can apply for up to six schools in order of their preference. We do know that some people who put Ashmount down as a first preference did not get in because they lived too far away, but then they got a lower preference. On the 16 may I wrote on the local Whitehall Park residents website “There were nine families who were not offered a place at either Ashmount or Coleridge having applied for either or both these schools. Five of them were offered other schools that they had put on their list of preferred schools. Four remained unplaced as they had not stated a preference for any other schools. They had only applied to Ashmount and Coleridge. They go on the waiting list for Ashmount and Coleridge as do the other parents as well, should they wish. (However, for the next few weeks it is not clear how many unplaced children there really are in this area as some parents refuse the places offered and new vacancies emerge. They could all get offers at Ashmount or Coleridge in the end)’

      In fact since then at least two of those four have been made offers at Ashmount or Coleridge. it is expected the other two have also been made offers, but where I do not know. Hargrave Park must be a possibility.

      you wrote:

      “Could all the families in the Whitehall Park area who would have been within catchment on your old site qualify for your new site? ”

      No. All the families to the east of the old site qualified for the new site or Coleridge. Families to the west of the site qualified for Hargrave Park, to the north of the site for Highgate Primary and to the south of the site Duncombe Primary. For those who would like a church school, Whitehall Park is in the C of E parish of St Andrews and so in the catchment for the Cof E school of St John’s Upper Holloway; while St Josephs School Highgate is available for Roman Catholics. In short the Whitehall Park area, which is of course where I live, is well served by schools. last year everyone in whitehall Park had a choice of three schools (at least) this year for some, the choice was reduced to two. Does this really sound like a shortage of places?

      If anyone wants to follow up this sort of thing in more detail I wrote several reports for the Whitehall Park Residents Association website. You can find them on:-

    • You said:-

      “The thing is, I doubt if Swiss venture capital types would want to start a school there if they hadn’t already tested the demand ”

      I think this is a really good point. I am quite baffled. I have looked hard for evidence of a growth in demand that would supply such a new school, and I just have not been able to find it. Nor actually other than running the website have the promoters done anything to create evidence of demand, they say they are going to canvas the streets but they never had. Assuming they are acting in good faith they must have some evidence, but where is it? Where is the demand? Where are the people without places?

      One possibility is that they have actually been given unreliable information by a third party, I will talk about that in a later post, but I am actually suggesting that they may, in some sense be deceived. But what of it? They are bearing very little financial risk, and were the school to turn out to be unviable, what is to stop them walking away from it?

      When you are a venture capitalist you know that by no means all your schemes will succeed. a lot will fail. The trick is to minimise the cost of failure, use other peoples money if you can, and have a few projects that succeed really well. They are risk takers, that is what they do. This Free School is a risky venture, but if it fails they do not bear the cost. The Trust structure will insulate them.

      • Since making this post I have learnt, on good authority, (But would welcome confirmation) that a Free School in its first two years of operation is NOT funded on the number of pupils it actually has, but on its capacity -The planned admission number.

        Obviously this reduces the risk to the venture capital setting up this school to basically zero as:-

        1. They get the site free of charge

        2. All the capital costs of renovating the building are met by an Education Funding Agency grant

        3. And they are funded for the first two years on the basis of being full no matter what their actual enrolment is.

        So first intake is 2014, second intake is 2015 (after the election) at that point it would make sense to review how things are going and based on the first two years intake take a view as to whether or not to continue the business into a third year.

        The principle ie really exactly the same as the calculations any shop chain makes when they open a new, say, Starbucks or Oliver Bonas. Give it a while to see how it goes then close it if its not doing well enough. With the difference that in the case of Whitehall Park School all the start up costs are being met by the state. Including a grant of 200,000 pounds to spend on marketing.

    • Barry (Wise) wrote:

      “According to one of the local newspapers there were 2 free school applications for this area but only one got through the selection process. The loser was reported to have got 1,200 signatures.”

      I would be interested in that local newspaper reference. Could you post it?

      But anyway as far as I know that is true, there were just two applications to set up a Free School using the old Ashmount site. The other one was called “the Oak School”

      Their informative (within the usual Steiner limitation that as a matter of principle they are inexplicit about their religion), well designed, web site is still up here:-

      They were planning quite a different kind of operation, partly because it was to be a “Steiner Waldorf” school. I dont know how much you know about the Steiner people, they are an interesting group, followers of an esoteric mystery religion “Anthroposophy” with an inner circle of the elect called the “First Class” For more information there is a not bad article in wikipedia thus.

      (The wikipedia entry is written very much from a “neutral point of view”. Be warned. Discussions of Steiner tend to get rather heated quickly. The basic advice for a quiet life is “dont mention the gnomes”. The Steiner movement have been successful in opening three other Free Schools, Steiner Academy Frome opened in September 2012, Steiner Academy Exeter, due to open in September 2013, Steiner Academy Bristol , 2013, got it this time. As to whether the tax payer should be funding Steiner schools at all is a different matter and out with this thread. One might conclude that Somerset seems to be a hot bed for this sort of thing, I blame Glastonbury. Interestingly the Steiner headquarters is also in Switzerland. Must be the mountain air. But possibly I digress.)


      There proposal was to be all through, age 4 to 19, so they cannot have been planning for more than one form entry, possibly less than thirty at that. At the moment in London there is no secondary steiner provision at all, with a few fee paying, private, steiner schools. One of which is not far away in Hornsey, was involved in the application, and would have become the new junior section of the school. So its existence already demonstrates core demand. Steiner people tend to be very committed, not that well heeled, and so greatly welcome being able to have state funded Steiner provision. This school would have drawn support from Steiner adherents at least from all over London. There are millions of people living within a 45 minute commute by public transport, London is like that, and no doubt Steiner families would have chosen to move into the general area as well.

      I have no doubt they would have filled their places, and also that they would have had no impact on recruitment on local schools as Steiner people are such a minority, and the school small in numbers anyway. Local residents, like me, would have experienced an increase in road traffic.

      For a mildly hostile account of Steiner see this:-

      • Actually Barry Wise’s comments about the failed Steiner bid having shown demand has provoked some interesting thoughts. First of all the Steiner Bid, was led by parents and teachers at the fee paying Steiner primary in Hornsey. (The plan was, if they had succeeded to move that school to be, the now non fee paying, primary section of the new, all through Steiner School on the Ashmount Site.0

        As such, surely it was just the sort of group that the Free School idea was set up to support was it not? And the DFE has no problem with Steiner in view of the other Steiner Schools it has approved.

        Moreover while I have explained why they should have had no difficulty in showing demand, as an under served niche market, Barry’s comment set me thinking.

        You see they made a really big effort. They had a stall down at Crouch End Broadway several saturdays running, distributing leaflets, talking to anyone, who like me, wanted to know more. They handed out leaflets on several occasions to commuters leaving Archway and Highgate tubes in the evening, and leafleted through the doors of the area local to the proposed site. There were leaflets in the local libraries and good, local press coverage.

        Bellevue did NONE of this at all.

        Despite what they say on their web site they never did go out on the streets.

        So three practical questions

        1 What is their evidence of demand?

        2. How did they get it?

        3. Why was their bid better than the Steiner one?

        If I had been involved in the Steiner bid I would have questions to ask. Starting wit these three.

        • On a Crouch End based bulletin board the following comment has just been posted by a resident responding to a posting about the Free School at the old Ashmount site:-

          “Further, I know the Oak School did a Demand Survey. I live in the area and I was accosted by them three times in a week! But as for Bellevue, I know NO-ONE who knows how Bellevue conducted its Demand Survey. No-one saw them. Ever. Does anyone here recall seeing them? ”

          So thats two of us who have noticed….

    • Stephanie Commerman says:

      Barry (Wise), in answer to your question: “Could all the families in the Whitehall Park area who would have been within catchment on your old site qualify for your new site? ”
      I confirm that the answer is NO. I am a direct neighbour to the Ashmount School’s old site and I did not get a reception space for September 2013 for my daughter at Ashmount School. I did not get a space at Coleridge either.
      In addition, I know for a fact that many children from the Whitehall Park area got a reception space at Ashmount School on the basis of the sibling’s policy. It is clear that in the near future, it will be difficult for NEW families from the Whitehall Park area to get into Ashmount (or Coleridge).

      • Stephanie:

        I am really sorry that you were disappointed, and that you neither got a place at Ashmount nor Coleridge for entry 2013.Were those the only two schools you applied for?

        However you would have been eligible for a place at Hargrave Park on distance. So yours is a case not, of not having a school place, but one of not getting a place in the school you wanted. if a Free School were established on the old Ashmount site, this would not, in itself, increase your chances of getting in to either Coleridge or Ashmount UNLESS enough applicants chose to go the the Free School instead of Coleridge or Ashmount, so you would, in effect be relying on enough of your neighbours preferring the Free School to your preferred school.

      • Also in response to the second part of your post -this bit:

        “In addition, I know for a fact that many children from the Whitehall Park area got a reception space at Ashmount School on the basis of the sibling’s policy. It is clear that in the near future, it will be difficult for NEW families from the Whitehall Park area to get into Ashmount (or Coleridge).”

        In fact both Ashmount and Coleridge had an unusually large number of siblings this year, which will have, at least partly explained why the Coleridge area shrank a little this year.
        Regarding Ashmount I find your comment really interesting as the Ashmount radius halved this year compared to last year. This was a very big change, and I am sure the large number of siblings must be part of the explanation.

        However it is NOT clear that in the future new families from the Whitehall Park area will find it difficult to get into Ashmount and Coleridge. This could be true, but equally might not be true. Over the last three years the number of applicants in the Crouch End Area has been falling, if this trend were to continue, and the number of siblings went down, then the radius for both Ashmount and Coleridge could increase in size.

        It is for this reason that Islington Council propose to wait until applications are in for 2014 before deciding whether to create an additional 15 places at Hargrave Park lest an expensive oversupply occur.

        • I realise that I neglected to give the absolutely final outcome of the admissions round for autumn 2013, which only became apparent a couple of weeks after term had actually started. To begin with, as happens every year, there was significant movement on waiting lists.

          In the Whitehall Park area broadly defined there were seven children without allocated school places when term started; they were people who had applied only to one of, or both of, Ashmount and Coleridge. One got a place in the end at Ashmount off the waiting list. Three were offered (and accepted) places at Hargrave Park. Three chose to go to independent, fee paying, schools.

          Vacant places at schools reachable from Whitehall Park also existed. They included Hargrave Park, Highgate Primary (of greatest relevance to people living to the north of the old Ashmount site) and Rokesley in Crouch End. I would regard Rokesley as being a bit far away myself, but the real relevance of it having places is that it confirms there was less pressure on places in neighbouring Crouch End than last year.

  15. […] Department for Education (DfE) has been accused of seeking to transfer a school site worth £10 million pounds to the private sector without […]

  16. Mark Upton says:

    Could there be grounds for a legal challenge based on ‘state aids’, after all this is a commercial organisation. This would tie up Michael Gove up in paperwork for awhile.

    • Thats an interesting thought. Its an EU thing isnt it that the stae not allowed to support private companies?

    • I have now had a look at the Biz info on state aid and found this:-

      A state aid is not allowed if:-

      The aid favours certain undertakings or the production of certain goods,

      The aid is provided through State resources,

      The aid distorts or threatens to distort competition,

      The aid affects trade between Member States.

      So its the last one that matters in this case. Bellvue do trade in Switzerland which is in the European Economic Area, so it certainly looks like a sensible question to ask.

      • Mark Upton says:

        My suggestion, is that a credible early complaint to the EU would cause DfE problems, even if not successful down the line. Look what happen to the Olympic Stadium. Yes, I know West Ham are still moving in. But it is a different deal.

  17. I suppose the obvious thing is to ensure this thought is passed on to Islington Council, but does it also mean that a euro MP would have a role?

    • The complaint as i understand can come from anyone. And there might be reasons why the council might not want to make it themselves. However, I would take professional advice to frame it right. You could approach your MEP, MP, Council and sympathetic lawyers to help. Indeed what is LSN view on this?

      To also maximise the initial impact you need to do some PR around it to generate press headlines “EU could thwart….”, making clear what the possible impact in terms of fines (over and above the actual state aid i.e. the cost of the land etc). Then you might frigthen the DFE Accounting Officer as well as the company, even before the Commission have opened your complaint. Get my drift?

  18. There has been a development in the Islington Free School Story.

    I have blogged about it, on this site, here:-

  19. This is an interesting exchange, in the last few days, from the website “Mumsnet” slightly edited, between myself and a parent involved in setting up a parent driven Free School in an area of place shortage.

    Parent setting up Free School

    “…. It will be interesting to see how the Free School on the old Ashmount site pans out because it’s not the message we’ve been getting from the DfE – it has been reported to us that the Minister won’t sign off Funding Agreements for new FS if there are surplus places in the local area.”

    Response from myself

    “Well it seems that th DFE have been told by the company promoting the school on the old Ashmount site, that they have parental demand running at 120 per cent for a two form entry in 2014. The seems very odd to me as it implies something like a 26 percent increase in the local reception age population, which would be a big jump in a year, especially as figures from admissions this year show that numbers in Crouch End have actually fallen a bit for two consecutive years.

    Can you say how you collected evidence of parental demand?”

    Parent setting up Free School

    “We had to canvass all of the nurseries, doctor’s surgeries, child start centres, have publicity days in the town centre, collect signatures, had a campaign in the local paper etc – basically did a huge amount of marketing to canvass local opinion and get people to either put pen to paper, or sign our statement of demand, with birthdates or dates of starting school. It was scrutinised before our first interview, at our Readiness for Opening meeting and before we got the final go ahead and ministerial sign off. We also had to show that going forward we would have demand. It’s slightly easier for us as we are sitting on a housing development of over 300 houses and there are no school places in the locality and we are a small, single form entry primary, so it’s obvious that there will be demand.

    It is in our Funding Agreement that if our numbers enrolled are below a certain percentage then the DfE/EFA can pull the funding – even very late in the day (a month before opening)…..”

  20. Mary says:

    to express your opposition to the islington free school, please sign and pass on this petition:

  21. As regular readers of this site will know before a Free School is set up, the proposers have to hold a consultation with the community the school is supposed to serve. It is a statutory requirement. The timetable for the proposed Free School using the old Ashmount building is challenging, and it was expected that the consultation would be really soon. In fact a fortnight ago the DfE told me that the consultation was going to start last week. Which obviously it did not. It now seems there has been a change of plan.
    In an email sent this evening the DfE said:

    “The proposer group have decided to delay the start of their statutory consultation until later in the year, on the basis that the Department’s discussions with Islington Borough Council about a potential site for the free school are still on-going and the proposers would prefer to undertake their consultation once they have a site clearly identified.The proposers are in the process of producing a new website for the free school and a re-direct facility will be added to their existing website by early next week, details of the consultation will appear on their new website in due course.”

    The phrase “once they have a site identified” would suggest that matters are not as certain as the current web site suggests.To quote from the site as it was tonight:-
    “The school plans to open in September 2014 with two Reception classes of 28 pupils on the former site of Ashmount Primary School at Hornsey Rise in the London Borough of Islington. The site will be refurbished and updated to meet the needs of the new school.”

    No doubt a reason for changing it. Of course as, at this stage, they will be using public money for their publicity they will be able to afford the cost of a new web site.

  22. Parent2 says:

    Janet, GEMS was chosen by Wokingham council for an academy – apparently after a competition with a ‘robust interview and selection process’, although the other bidders were not mentioned in its press release ( It was proposed in Reading as a free school by its MP.

    In Richmond the GEMS free school (primary) had been previously proposed by IES which advertised directly to parents for two months in November/December 2012 just before the application deadline. You can still see this news item on the online site:

  23. Janet

    Their website revamped this week has the following information about who is behind the project. I cut and paste from the site.


    Bellevue Education Group
    Bellevue Education Group currently operates nine preparatory schools in the independent sector. Bellevue schools come in all shapes and sizes, but they are all committed to one thing: providing a broad, and exciting education in a happy environment and doing everything possible to make sure that pupils achieve everything that they are capable of.

    Place Group
    Place Group is a leading school services, education advisory and project management company. It has worked with a variety of schools and academy sponsors to establish high-performing schools across all phases (4-19). By September 2013, Place will have helped over 60 schools to open including 20 free schools.

    Together, these partners form Bellevue Place Education Trust.

    Rutherford House School, a primary free school in Balham, London, is also operated by Bellevue Place Education Trust. The school has proved a popular choice with parents and will open with two complete Reception classes in September 2013.”


    • A journalist has drawn my attention to two interesting facts about Rutherford House School, which which one can get from their website. First of all they have not appointed a Head yet: the Head is an Acting Head. They hope to appoint one in Jnauary 2014. Secondly they require both a winter AND a summer uniform. The Winter uniform costs, so far as I can see, in the region of 150 pounds. The Summer uniform is not yet specified but presumably will be close on that, although some items will be allowed in both seasons. For example the compulsory rucksack.

  24. Thanks, David. None of the following: Bellevue Education Group, Place Group or Bellevue Place Education Trust, is on the DfE list of approved sponsors (downloadable from below).

    This raises the question why free schools are opening which are run by non-DfE-approved sponsors. Perhaps there’s an “unofficial” list somewhere.

    I wonder where the money comes from to allow free school proposers to hire marketing companies to promote the school’s “brand”? (apparently “private school values” has become a marketing slogan – as if only private schools have values)

    DfE list of approved sponsors downloadable here:

    • You ask where the money comes from, well when the DfE allows an application to get as far as pre opening stage the proposers get a grant of 220,000 pounds to use for the costs involved in set up. A godsend to groups of parents who otherwise have to do it all by voluntary labour, but in this case a grant to a commercial company. So the answer is, us, the taxpayer. So in effect Bellevue place get a substantial amount of marketing paid for them. It really means that they are able to set these schools up at no cost to themselves, so, I believe it is a specualtion costing them nothing, on being able to move to for profit in the future.

      • David – Bellevue Place Education Trust is still not on the DfE list of approved sponsors (updated 11 September). Neither is Place Group which, of course, provides support for free school proposers and two of the Bellevue Place Education Trust directors are also directors of Place Group.

        Place Group Education Trust was dissolved in June 2012.

        Note: this comment updated at 11.20am because the original comment missed the word “Education” from the Trust’s name. The full name is Bellevue Place Education Trust.

        • Janet I am not sure what to do with this information; whether on the “approved list” or not seems to make no practical difference as the bid continues to proceed. They are now, in their rather delayed, consultation phase.

          • The old school building now appears to be occupied by squatters.

            Not a good season of the year to do it, its a very chilly building in winter…

          • David – the fact that there’s a DfE list of “approved” sponsors would imply that no school should be sponsored by any organisation not on the list. However, we know that’s not the case. This raises the question why it’s necessary to have an “approved” list if the DfE ignores its own list and allows non-approved sponsors to sponsor or set up schools.

            This suggests that the DfE isn’t in control and that it’s not exercising diligence when allowing groups to set up free schools (as we’re now seeing with Al-Madinah in Derby).

    • Thanks, David. I notice that the marketing firm employed by the free school proposers want to “create a buzz about the school”. It appears, then, that education is descending into the world of advertising and spin. This coincides with the number of schools which have had to be censured by the Advertising Standards Authority because they’ve done such things as saying theye’re “outstanding” when Ofsted hasn’t visited or that the head has turned round the school from special measures to outstanding when this hasn’t been the case.

      So, it won’t necessarily be the best school that attracts parents but the one that’s best at marketing (for which taxpayers are paying, of course).

      • Yes, when a Free School proposal gets pre approved status they get a grant of 220 thousand pounds to help them develop the proposal. So for example if a parent group are setting up a school they can hire the specialists difficult to find in a volunteer group, to drive up the various papers needed, and to pay for the cost of the “consultation”. Given the mimimal nature of the consultation in this case, which is a marketing excercise really, and given that Bellvue Ltd already have all the corporate infrastructure in place they must have at least 200 thousand pounds in public money to spend on marketing.

  25. Matthew says:

    I am a parent of a child who would have gone to old Ashmount. Now the only option is Hargrave Park – a poorly performing school a long way from my house in Whitehall Park. Unlike many posters on here, I do not have an ideological dog in this race. Like most parents I just want a good local school for my child. I do not care who owns it – just that is provides a great, broad education for the children who attend it.

    Maybe some of the more dogmatic people in here should dig themselves out of their politically-motivated trenches and focus on what would work for children in our community.

    • howard says:

      Is that the same Hargrave Park that was assessed as “good” by OFSTED in March 2012?

    • Brian says:

      Would that be the same Hargrave Park which got ‘Good’ in every aspect of its Ofsted inspection just over a year ago?

  26. Matthew – From the Ofsted report March 2012:

    “Hargrave Park is a good school. It is improving strongly following a decline in achievement since the previous inspection. Pupils, staff, parents and carers are very positive about all aspects of the school’s work.”

    “Pupils’ achievement is good. They enter the Nursery with skills that are generally below the expected levels. They leave at the end of Year 6 with attainment that is broadly average. Progress is good throughout the school for all groups of pupils.”

    “Teaching is good and sometimes outstanding.”

    The full report can be downloaded here:

  27. This story has now moved on a bit further, so I have posted about it again, here:

    (The new “Islington Free School” has now been renamed the “Whitehall Park School” and their intention to use the old Ashmount School site has been reiterated. However if you want to find all the postings about this story on this site doing a search under “Ashmount” will do it.)

  28. Jill Henry says:

    It seems the Bellevue Education Trust/Group/Limited are to set up a primary free school in Kilburn set to open Sept 2015. Announced this morning, no campaign needed! I wonder what site they will manage to “acquire”.

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