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."
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.
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
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.