How many? From where? How successful has Whitehall Park School been in recruiting children?

David Barry's picture
 16
This is a sequel - part two if you will - to a posting I made on the 8 March 2014 here:

In that posting I used the actual number of applications to Whitehall Park School (obtained by Freedom of Information request from the DfE, the school themselves would not say) to establish that the strident claims by Bellevue Place that applications had "flooded in", "applications were through the roof" and that there were “many more applications than we have places available” were actually not true. Also that the DfE's statement to the press, based on the Bellevue briefing no doubt, that the school was "popular with parents" and the school "oversubscribed" was basically - nonsense.

I also used a combination of Islington school places projections, what actually happened in school admissions last year, and (very) local knowledge, including what I knew of Highgate and Crouch End, both in Haringey to predict Whitehall Park School would be lucky, by the first day of the autumn term, to make double figures.

So three months further on, and two months after offer day, how are things looking?

Getting any response from Whitehall Park School remains difficult, and their engagement with FOI less than enthusiastic. They appear to have been surprised to discover they are covered by FOI; naturally the commercial sponsors of Bellevue Place Education Trust are not. However they made a number of announcements of their own accord. They all had the same pattern, demand for the school is said to be very high, it is implied, or more or less said, that the school is full, and then further applications for the "waiting list" are invited.

In particular Whitehall Park School have held meetings for parents offered places who wanted to find out more about the school - particularly important for late applicants, joining the "waiting list" of course. It was at those meetings (for example the one on 28th April) that the Head designate assured anxious parents that the new school building would be ready by September 2015 on the old Ashmount site, and that children would be accommodated for the first school year in portocabins, on that site. When asked how many children were needed to make the school viable the answer given, apparently was twelve. And, at that time, it was said this target was "almost reached" In light of later information I think that this figure which was understood to mean 12 for the whole school, by those who heard it, and found it a reassuringly small figure, was actually 12 per class, so the real figure required was the higher one of 24. In due course there was a later meeting at which the proposers explained that the minimum number of acceptances required, under the funding agreement, was 24, which, at the time of the meeting had "virtually" been reached.

Finally in their newsletter dated 27 May 2014 they announced:

"We are delighted to confirm that Whitehall Park School has surpassed the number of acceptances that our Funding Agreement required to open. 40 families have already accepted the offer of a Reception place for their child for this September, with further families on the school’s waiting list, or due to respond to their offer."

http://www.whitehallparkschool.co.uk/whitehall-park-school-proves-a-popu...

It will be noted that they seem reluctant to go public, in writing, as to what the minimum number required by the funding agreement actually is. My figure of 24 for this is based on hearsay.

However what they are claiming is at first sight a reasonable number - forty - of acceptances. Now while a curmugeon might remark that even 40 (out of 56 places) is hardly a case of "oversubscription" there were more families "due to respond to their offer" so the clear implication is they might well be full by September 2014.

So have I (did I) get it wrong? Also, did Islington admissions when they said they had enough places for applicants get it wrong? Or is it down to an influx of the placeless from just across the border with Haringey in Highgate and Crouch End?

Some light is thrown on this question; - basically where have they come from? - by Bellevue Place Education Trust in their recent planning application to construct temporary accommodation for Whitehall Park School - portocabins - on the old Ashmount site. As part of this they were required to submit a "Traffic Statement" so that the planners could see what the impact on local traffic patterns would be of granting this application.

The Traffic statement, prepared by consultants based on information given to them by Whitehall Park School said:

"A list of eligible school admissions provided by Whitehall Park School showed that parents from the following postcodes had registered interest in a place for their children:

N1, N4, N5, N6, N7, N8, N9, N10, N15, N19 (the postcode area of the site) N22, EC1"

And they go on to observe:

"Some of these postcode areas are over 10km from the school site, which is considerably further than may be expected for the typical journey to school area for a primary school. Pupils travelling longer distances to primary school may be less likely to use active modes of transport i.e. cycling, walking and scooters and more likely to be transported by car, however without more detailed information on pupils' home postcodes and numbers the effect on use of different modes of transport is difficult to forecast."

So they are not, in general, from the local area at all! So while local children have been, or are, in the process of being placed by Islington and Haringey in local schools, the Whitehall Park children are coming from further afield.

What seems to have happened is this. Whitehall Park School have been actively recruiting in Muswell Hill (and still further north, in Barnet). While they seem to have been doing this for a while, which is hardly surprising given what we know of the local demand for places, this intensified after offer day. I imagine they started to do this as it became apparent they were not getting enough positive responses to their first round offers. For example, they had, (I understand) a number of Haringey applicants alarmed by rumours, partly fed by an article in the "Tatler", that the radius for Coleridge School in Crouch End would be much smaller this year.

("The catchment area is hanky-sized and families move within yards to get in - any further than three or four blocks away and you've got no chance." A bit of an exaggeration.... http://www.tatler.com/news/articles/january-2014/the-tatler-guide-to-sta... )

So Whitehall Park School was an "insurance" application. In the event the Coleridge radius went down by just over 7 yards, these applicants got and accepted their Coleridge place.

Also, after offer day a recruitment opportunity was created by a number of people in Muswell Hill and Barnet not getting offers for any of their expressed preferences on offer day. There was this story in the local paper the day after offer day:

In the Muswell Hill case, as it is Haringey's practice to allocate a place on offer day to anyone not offered for a preference a number were offered places in Tottenham, pending any future offer. These were prime candidates for Whitehall Park as in fact commuting by car from Muswell Hill to Whitehall Park is probably easier than commuting to Tottenham.

So Whitehall Park have been canvassing outside the local district for "late applicants" to join their "waiting list" - but of course in truth there is no "waiting list" as everyone gets an offer at once. .

So this would explain how one could have no shortage of places in the area the Whitehall Park School is in, and still have a decent number of applicants, albeit up to 30 minutes journey time away. For those who support Whitehall Park School the obvious comment is to ask does it really matter how far the children are coming? Clearly there must be a "need"? Just because the demand has turned out not to be "local" it is still a demand.... (Although residents close to the site might worry about car traffic)

However there is a big issue with the reported figures. The crucial point is how many of the forty who have accepted places prior to 27 May 2014, will through the "churn" get further offers through the pan London system which they may yet prefer. I have been reliably informed of two children that were late applicants from Muswell Hill, accepted the Whitehall Park Place, and then got offers due to Haringey creating a "bulge class' at St Mary's, Hornsey. (And note they have been careful to report that forty have, by 27 May accepted places, not how many acceptances have subsequently been withdrawn) I have also heard of others reluctant to go to Tottenham, who have, with some misgiving accepted a place at Whitehall Park School but are actually very high on the waiting list for their first preference school, which if they get it they will take. So the number of acceptances at Whitehall Park School, one must suppose, fluctuate from week to week, but with an underlying downward trend.

Especially as more and more people, as time pass will have a choice between established schools, all OfSted good at least, some Outstanding, and the new Whitehall Park School, full of promises, but unavoidably no track record, but the certainty, based on their own announced building plans that the children will be in portocabins, on a building site.

It is not surprising therefore that the news letter (whose title "Whitehall Park School proves a popular choice for local families" is shown by their planning application to be seriously misleading) ends with a renewed appeal for more applicants to join the waiting list.

CONCLUSION

It seems likely that the EFA specified a minimum number of acceptances in the funding agreement before the Whitehall Park School could be progressed further and that, at some recent date, this number was reached. This has enabled them to move forward to inviting tenders for portocabins and applying for planning permission to allow them to be put up. However this will not be the number in the school this September.

THEY WILL STILL BE LUCKY TO GET TO DOUBLE FIGURES

POSTSCRIPT

An odd feature of the situation is the current position regarding the site.

Although the Minister said some time ago that he is "minded" to take the old Ashmount site, (see here) the actual, formal, decision has not yet been made. I was informed a few days ago that Islington have been led to expect the announcement in a fortnight or so. But they have been led to expect this several times now over the last few months. What this delay means is unclear. However it would be consistent with civil servants seeking to postpone a final committment for as long as possible.
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Comments

Barry Wise's picture
Wed, 11/06/2014 - 12:25

David

While I marvel at your well-placed sources seemingly inside both Islington and Harringey admissions teams, I'd be a bit cautious if I were you. Some of the stuff you are reporting is pupil level info that's bound to be covered by a duty of confidence and data protection laws.

Brian's picture
Wed, 11/06/2014 - 13:28

As far as I can see all of David's sources are publicly available, reports in the press, attendance at public meetings or hearsay / rumour, in which case David makes this clear. Could you point me to anything in David's post which would constitute 'pupil level' information, please?


Barry Wise's picture
Wed, 11/06/2014 - 13:45

Well Brian, you wouldn't need to work for MI5 to establish the identities of

two children that were late applicants from Muswell Hill, accepted the Whitehall Park Place, and then got offers due to Haringey creating a “bulge class’ at St Mary’s, Hornsey

Brian's picture
Wed, 11/06/2014 - 14:47

Well I think I might. Firstly I would need to get hold of the names of all the children who applied from Muswell Hill, then I'd need to work out who on that list were late applicants. Then I'd have to trace that information (which I haven't got, because I don't know any of the children's names) to Whitehall Park. I suppose I could somehow get a list of entrants to Whitehall Park, although I'm not sure where from, but I still wouldn't know if they were the late-applicant Muswell Park children, for all I know they might have decided to accept the late offer for St. Mary's. From where I sit, 200 miles away from the action, I think my chances of picking up pupil level Information from David's posts, with or without MI5 and the CIA, are a bit thin. I suspect if I was only 200 yards away I'd have pretty much the same chance.


David Barry's picture
Wed, 11/06/2014 - 17:36

Brian,

You are quite right, in fact it is even more complicated than you suspect. In this, first year, applications to Whitehall Park are being handled directly by the school, while all other applications are handled by the pan London admissions system. So you would have to have access to the admissions files being managed by Bellevue Place, and entirely seperately the admissions files being managed by Haringey and cross correlate the two. Both sets of files will be secured by data protection, and are held in different locations by different organisations.

But actually the point moot anyway as my prediction is that people who have applied to Whitehall Park as an "insurance application" and have been quickly offered and accepted a place, will, as times passes, and in increasing numbers be made applications for established schools, at least OfSted good, closer to where they live, for which they had originally applied.

They will then have two offers. Which will they choose?

David Barry's picture
Wed, 11/06/2014 - 17:27

Barry,

While I am grateful for your concern on my behalf as Brian has spotted all the information I used was publically available, with the most important bits coming from statements made by the Whitehall Park School, either in a newsletter, available on their website or in documents submitted as apart of their planning application for permission to put up portocabins available on the council web site.

The exception was my information regarding the two children came from private communications from the parents concerned, and I have not disclosed the names or genders of the children in question.

David Barry's picture
Mon, 23/06/2014 - 17:18

An interesting story about Whitehall Park in the Islington Gazette.

http://www.islingtongazette.co.uk/news/new_archway_free_school_head_too_...

The points I picked out of it were:-

1.The Head is working hard and had contacted the paper to get a story run to attract more applicants. But the journalist was not uncritical and points out that this school seeking more applicants ins the one that had previously informed the paer it was "oversubscribed"

2. She concedes there are vacancies, but rather strangely says that this

"is usual in state schools at this time of year"

3. Is still claiming the month old figure of 40 for the school. Odd that this has not changed in a month. Particularly as they said there were "more families due to respond to an offer" No doubt this is why she is going to the press to try and get more. But its also at this stage that further offers are going out from the existing schools, perhaps they have had some more acceptances but these have been cancelled out by withdrawals?

4. Describes the pupils as coming from Islington , Haringey, CAMDEN and HACKNEY.

Well as the school is on the Islington, Haringey border you would expect applicants from those two boroughs. It was from those two, mostly Islington, that Ashmount's children did, (and do, of course) come. But Camden, and even further Hackney?

Brian's picture
Mon, 23/06/2014 - 17:34

The section I liked best from the newspaper article was where the head said that, as a free school, “The advantage of being a free is that we can take all the best bits of what other Islington schools are doing, but we also have the freedom to pick and choose and try new teaching methods.”

I wasn't aware that only free schools are free to try new teaching methods. Have I missed something?

David Barry's picture
Mon, 23/06/2014 - 18:04

Yes thats a good one. I also liked this bit:

"the head, who helped spearhead St John The Baptist School in Hackney to the cusp of an outstanding Ofsted report"

(err so not "outstanding" then?)

David Barry's picture
Mon, 23/06/2014 - 18:09

But you have got to admit its a useful phrase.

So the school is on the "cusp" of being oversubscribed?

Parents will be told in September 2015 not to worry because the new building is not ready yet, because it is "on the cusp" of being ready?

And dont worry if you think your child's progress less than you would like, as it will be "on the cusp" of being really good?

Brian's picture
Mon, 23/06/2014 - 18:34

I also notice that there is no mention of this paragraph from the St. John the Baptist Ofsted (April 2013) report!

'Prior to September 2012, the local authority was giving a higher-than-average level of support to the school. This successfully helped to raise pupils’ attainment levels and the school now has monitoring visits in line with other schools in the area.'

David Barry's picture
Tue, 08/07/2014 - 12:33

A relevant cartoon in the Guardian today.

http://www.theguardian.com/education/cartoon/2014/jul/07/ros-asquith-lin...

Whitehall Park School continues to invite applications for the "few remaining places" in particular advertising for school applicants who may not have been successful in an appeal for a place at their original choice.

David Barry's picture
Sat, 12/07/2014 - 16:32

A bit of an update on this. Whitehall Park School have notified the Islington Schools' Forum, who, for technical reasons I may come back to later need to have, and are entitled to accurate information on some aspects of the Free School, that the total number of pupils expected this Autumn is, indeed, forty. Some pupils will be coming from Barnet to join the others from Hackney, Camden, Muswell Hill, Tottenham and indeed those from Islington. So on those figures there has been a bit of a turnover and the effect is to increase the average journey distance to the school. ( Elsewhere they have said the number of pupils they expect is fifty. On a PAN (Planned Admission Number) of 56 this would obviously be a better result. Of the two figures forty would, presumably be the most reliable one.)

Current Islington admissions figures show that 79 pupils applying through the pan london admissions sytem to Islington schools have not yet received an offer for one of the preferences (up to six) for which they have applied. These puils are located to the south of the borough. There are currently 121 vacant places, so any of the 79 without an offer from one of their preferences by the end of the season can be absolutely guaranteed a place.

A single form entry school in the south of the borough has been identified as having the physical capacity to revert to an historic two form entry at virtually no captital cost, and so this is available to create an additional 30 places should they be needed at any point in the future.

Whitehall Park School remains a Free School being established in an area where the surrounding schools are OfSted Good, or Outstanding. and where, this year the borough will have over forty spare places.

David Barry's picture
Sat, 12/07/2014 - 16:36

It seems that Bellevue have been briefing local people admitting there have been difficulties recruiting children to the school. I understand they have been getting some feed back following the story in the Islington Gazette, referenced above, asking why an "oversubscribed school" has vacancies.... It seems the difficulties are due to Islington.

This is what was said in a communication to the neighbourhood, through a local social media site in response to concerns being expressed regarding the impact of traffic locally generated by the children coming from far away, in cars.

FIRST QUOTE STARTS

"As the new school grows over time, and more and more local people discover that it exists, and what a great school it hopefully becomes I am sure that its catchment area shrink radically, as all good schools do. After all, the Whitehall Park School’s recruitment has been deliberately hampered by LBI. The key document advising parents on primary school admissions in the borough did not include WPS in the map of schools available, and then listed it using the wrong name. Under these circumstances, in its first year of being, it is hardly surprising that there may be fewer locals and some pupils who come from further afield, are dropped by car."

FIRST QUOTE ENDS

SECOND QUOTE STARTS

"I think...the... council's deliberate failure to promote the school has undermined pupil demand for this year "

Celestine (local Mum)'s picture
Wed, 19/11/2014 - 13:09

I am surprised by the negativity. This area is crammed full of young families, and from what I can see, Whitehall Park School is meeting a genuine need. What has impressed me, is the number of parents I've met who forfeited their 1st choice place at Coleridge, rated outstanding, to believe in a local school which at the moment, hasn't actually been built yet.

Surely this is a triumph of belief, hope, courage and commitment to building a local community school. And shows the need for one in this area after the departure of Ashmount Primary. I've already overheard one mother say that Whitehall Park School is creating a stronger sense of community in this area. Priceless, surely?

As a parent of a child about to go into school next year, all I can say, is what a stroke of luck for us to have the choice. It's a huge burden off our shoulders. (Coleridge were unfortunately rather arrogant on the phone when I spoke to their office about whether we were in their catchment area for nursery - we live only 0.4 miles and aren't).

I can't speak for other parents, but all I want for our daughter is a local school nearby which can offer a combination of friendly, down-to-earth, passionate, professional teaching. As a result, I can get to my work on time, and get on with my own professional contributions to the community. I really celebrate the vision and dynamism of this team at Whitehall Park School. So far, they have already had a positive impact. I look forward to seeing them deliver.

David Barry's picture
Thu, 18/12/2014 - 17:49

Celestine,

As you are surprised by "the negativity" you are obviously new to the debate.

If you look at this post

http://www.localschoolsnetwork.org.uk/2013/10/islington-free-school-a-so...

You will find the case against set out with admirable clarity. Mind you I do not feel negative at all. I am a positive supporter of Islington Schools and a positive supporter of trying to get at least a few Islington children currently poorly housed into better housing...

I am slightly bemused by your reference to

"a number of parents Ive met who have forfeited their 1 st choice place at Coleridge".

Of course if this were true it would be a knockdown example of WPS places not being needed, as they already had a place at Coleridge..

But actually the trouble is that there simply could NOT be a number of parents in that position because only parents living near the old Ashmount site are also close enough to Coleridge to get in, and there were only a handful of these who accepted places at WPS this year.

The only other thing, and perhaps you could come back to me and convince me otherwise, but the language of your post, starting with your complaint of "negativity" and the phrases about "a triumph of belief" and "vision and dynamism" is exactly that of the marketing that has been carried out by WPS. Almost as if you were part of the marketing initiative...

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