Flaws in Council plans for new school building

9 Mar

James outside Kingsgate 3It has been evident for at least the last four years that there is a shortage of primary school places in Kilburn and West Hampstead. So it’s disappointing that it took Camden Council so long to bring forward plans to address this problem. But it is even more concerning that the Council is pushing through a highly unusual and controversial strategy.

As many readers will be aware, the Council has proposed that a new school building should be developed at Liddell Road. But rather than facilitating the development of a new primary school, the Council is proposing that the new building should instead be an expansion of Kingsgate primary school on Kingsgate Road. So infant children will attend the Liddell Road site, and older Kingsgate pupils will continue to go to the Kingsgate Road site. This model appears to have been pursued because of Camden Labour’s aversion to the development of a new free school or academy, which could offer an additional choice of school to parents.

The broader downsides of the proposed development at Liddell Road (in terms of the loss of small businesses and the lack of affordable housing) have been well-documented. So I want to focus here on the issues for parents and children in Kilburn, which were included in a Kilburn Liberal Democrat response to the Council’s latest consultation.

Split site school

I am not opposed in principle to the expansion of Kingsgate primary school. Indeed, until recently I was a governor at Kingsgate, and wholeheartedly agree with Ofsted’s most recent assessment that it is an outstanding school. Often missing from the debate is recognition that Kingsgate has already expanded to take on additional ‘bulge’ classes at the Kingsgate Road site to meet the increased demand for school places. That is good and sensible, given the school is so popular and well-run.

However, the Liddell Road site is a problematic location for a more significant expansion strategy. It is 0.8miles away by foot from Kingsgate Road. There are very few examples of primary schools split in this way, and no convincing educational case has been made for adopting such an unusual structure. The distance will inevitably limit mobility between the two sites, and make the development of a single school ethos very difficult.

Most importantly, parents with children both at the infant school site (at Liddell Road) and the junior school site (at Kingsgate Road) would have to negotiate the very busy West Hampstead interchange every day when dropping off and collecting their children. Anybody who is on West End Lane at 8am will know this is not a matter to be lightly dismissed. The prospect of an additional challenge for busy parents, many of whom will also be juggling childcare and work, may deter some of them from choosing to send their children to Kingsgate school in future years.

Admissions

Although this has not been spelt out by the Council, the introduction of a new school building for Kingsgate is likely to lead to a change in the admissions criteria for the school. I am concerned this has not been clarified and explained in the Council’s consultations as it is a material consideration for parents in assessing the merits or otherwise of the split site model. For example, it may make it more difficult for parents in the southern part of Kilburn ward (e.g. Abbey Estate, Rowley Way) to secure a place at Kingsgate if the admissions point moves northwards.

Parental input

It is very concerning that only five parents responded to the Council’s previous consultation. This suggests the Council has failed to engage the most important stakeholders in this decision. The Council should not adopt such a significant change in primary school options in NW6 until it has secured and considered the views of parents with children at Kingsgate and other parents in NW6 with pre-school children.

Alternative approaches

Parents should have been asked for their views about alternative approaches to addressing the shortage of school places in NW6, such as opening an entirely new primary school at the Liddell Road site or another location. The Government has provided £6.7m in additional funding to help the Council create new school places, which might have been used to support alternative models. I note there is a growing campaign from parents within NW6 to establish a new school, and regret that the Labour Council appears to have adopted an unhelpful attitude towards them.

As noted above, Kingsgate school has already expanded at the Kingsgate Road site, taking on a series of bulge classes in recent years. The Council could explore the scope to permanently maintain an expanded Kingsgate school at Kingsgate Road while providing a new smaller primary school site at Liddell Road or an alternative site to increase choice for parents in NW6.

In summary, it seems the educational case for the Council’s proposed model has significant flaws. The Council has just completed the statutory consultation on the expansion so I hope it will be giving due consideration to the issues outlined above. We need to make sure that parents in NW6 have a good choice of primary school options for their kids in the years ahead.

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One Response to “Flaws in Council plans for new school building”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Will Labour listen on Liddell Road? | King in Kilburn - February 14, 2015

    […] the Council’s ‘split-site’ model for Kingsgate primary school, as I pointed out in a previous post almost a year ago. The Council has only just got round to consulting on the implications for the […]

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