The Thirty Three and a half million pound question.
Janet Downs' recent post:
""School proposals ‘utter madness’ and lack coherent planning, says Rugby councillor" here.
Reports a consequence of Local Authorities retaining the function of managing school place supply, while having no control over the provision of places by Free Schools or Academies. (This by the way is only one of the features of current Government policy people greet with incredulity when they hear it. In fact when you explain this to people there is a tendency to assume you must be mistaken.)
The inconvenience this causes takes two forms:
In those areas where demand is rising, producing a shortage of places, LA's are not allowed to open new schools to meet demand. Instead new schools have to be Free Schools or Academies. There is increasing evidence that this government policy is resulting in unmet demand. The Local Government Association are much exercised by and have called for powers to create new schools to be returned to local authorities
In those areas where demand is NOT increasing we see, as in the Rugby case, places provided, at great cost to the tax payer, where they are not needed. As the money available for new school places is limited the nonsense of this policy should, one would have thought, have been apparent. Every school place paid for in one area, is a school place not affordable in another.
Here, drawn from my own local area, which happens to be Jeremy Corbyn's constituency of Islington North are three other examples of what is going on.
1. Whitehall Park School
It's quite a lot of reading so to sum up; Whitehall Park is a Free School, established on land requisitioned without compensation from Islington Council, causing a loss to the education budget in Islington, and put under the control of Bellevue Ltd a profit making company. (The control is exercised through an Educational Trust, Bellevue Place, set up by Bellevue Ltd for this purpose, which now runs seven Free Schools and which buys support services for these schools from Bellevue Ltd, thereby, quite legally, enhancing the profits of Bellevue Ltd.)
The school was set up in an area with, at that time a surplus of primary places and where if extra primary capacity were needed in the future it could have been provided at low cost by expanding existing local schools, and where ALL the local schools were OfSted "Good" except those which were "Outstanding". The area, despite an increase in demand is still, today, shown as having a surplus of school places.
(In the latest official return to the Islington Schools Forum the School declares that it has a capacity for 120 places, but that it actually has 74 children. Postings on social media by persons claiming to be parents at the school, and to be active in the PTA say there is a rather larger number of children than that, but concede that there are still vacant places. Press releases from the Educational Trust continue to describe the school as "oversubscribed.")
The school children are being accommodated in portocabins pending the demolition of the old Ashmount School building which is beside the portocabins and the building of a new building at an announced cost of some millions.... (Promises regarding the new build, and the date of its delivery, have been regularly made, only to be broken. At time of writing this the demolition promised to begin early December 2015 has yet to start.)
So we have the cost to the Islington Capital budget of the requisition of the land, the cost of the "temporary" accomodation for the children, the cost of a complex demolition to be carried out, it seems, with children on the same site, followed by the cost of building the new building. There is also the unquantifiable cost to the children of being educated on a hazardous building site (The hazard is asbestos in the old building, with exposure to asbestos as a child being the most dangerous form of exposure). All to provide school places not required...
2. The case of Mount Carmel
Mount Carmel School, is a Roman Catholic state secondary school for Girls in North Islington. It was last inspected by Ofsted in 2014 and found to be "Good with outstanding features". A good secondary school then. Despite this it has for some years been suffering from declining rolls. It seems this is driven by three factors:-
a. A decline in demand for a Catholic education for girls in the area.
b. This is made worse by the existence of a neigbouring Catholic girls' school, La Saint Union in Camden, which parents tend to prefer. So the impact of the downturn not uniform but concentrated in a particular school. This is usually the case where a surplus of places exists. It does not occur evenly across all schools.
c. Another possible source of girls for the school, Muslim parents, who very much prefer single sex schooling for their children, and for that reason have been known to send their girls to Catholic Schools, is made difficult to tap because of Parliament Hill School. This is a highly regarded girls' Community School in Camden, which as it has a large intake and is beside Hampstead Heath, so there is no one living in a large part of its radius of admission, is a direct competitor with Mount Carmel for girls.
Over the last few years the Schools Forum in Islington has helped Mt Carmel with some extra funding to compensate for the falling roll in the hope that the situation could yet be turned around, and Islington Education Officials have been working with the Archdiocese of Westminster to see what could be done.
However in the first week of February the Director of Education at the Archdiocese wrote to parents with sad news. He explained that together with Islington he had come to the conclusion that Islington simply does not require more girls’ places. Instead future projections suggested a need for more boys’ places.
In the letter, quoted in the Islington Tribune
The Director wrote:
“This has not been an easy decision and one that has implications for Catholic education across north London. The reality is the school in its current format is no longer viable despite being a good school by Ofsted’s standards.
“The truth is that there are currently 314 vacant places in the school and financially this had made the current arrangements untenable. Mount Carmel’s current arrangements do not fit the profile required by the wider community.”
So basically the school in its current form will have to close because of lack of demand. Market forces, it would seem.
At this point, given that Islington have identified a developing need for the capacity represented by the school, (if it were co educational, and not a church school) the solution is obvious, simple, and forbidden by the Government. Islington should take over the school and turn it in to a coed establishment. No capital investment required, the premises in excellent condition. There would, of course have to be an agreement of some kind with the Archdiocese regarding the transfer, but this is just the sort of (non trivial) detail that Council Officers are good at. And Islington and the Archdiocese have a good working relationship.
As the Executive Member for Education in Islington, Councillor Joe Calouri told the Tribune:
"I accept the decision the Catholic Diocese has made that Mount Carmel isn’t viable with so few pupils, but that is no comment on the quality of the school itself. Our projections show that we will need more secondary school places in the future, especially for boys.”
So what will happen? The answer is that the Catholic Archdioces will, it seems, try to find an Academy Chain to take it over, with whom they will have to negotiate instead of with Islington. Islington are reduced to seeking:
"to influence the process so that a school provider with experience and knowledge of education in Islington could be found to run it"
The full story is in the Tribune here:
3. The thirty three and a half million pound matter.
Finally we have the strange story in Schools Week. The relevant quote is " Schools Week can.... reveal that the DfE has bought a property in Islington, London, for £33.5 million “for educational purposes”. No further details about the intended use of the building have been released. The site is in Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s constituency."
The site in question is near no less than two existing secondary schools, in an area where additional primary places are not needed, and where any additional secondary places could be met by a successor school to Mount Carmel. It does not have suitable buildings for use as any kind of school without expensive conversion. Other than that, Islington know no more than is printed in Schools Week.