As free schools become an issue in Brent, Anne Clarke writes a Guest Blog on the West Hampstead International School on our borders
Campaigners for the West Hampstead International Free School (WHIFS), an all-through (ages 4-19) free school hoping to open in 2015 or 2016, say that West Hampstead is a black hole when it comes to secondary school provision and the available local schools are not good enough. According to Dr. Clare Craig, the group's lead petitioner:
There are no good schools just over the borough borders and children end up travelling a long way to attend Barnet grammar schools or church schools elsewhere.
In fact, NW6 is home to St. Augustine's Cof E School which OFSTED deems to be "outstanding" and Queen's Park Community School which is a solidly "good" school. The local comprehensive, Hampstead School, in Camden and just outside the NW6 postcode is "good with some outstanding features" according to OFSTED and is now in the top 2% of the country for A-level results.
Dr. Craig repeatedly claims that there simply are not enough secondary places for an incoming population boom. She has all sorts of graphs and charts with data modelled herself based on GP birth records in Camden, Brent and the NW6 post code. Predicting student numbers is very difficult and the GLA and Camden spend a lot of time and money hiring people to do this work on their behalf.
Camden insist there will be sufficient secondary places until 2022/2023, their numbers can be found HERE.
Schools are funded on a per head basis so undersubscribed schools suffer from funding shortfalls. To build schools 8 years before they are needed would be catastrophic for all local schools, including new ones.
The addition of the primary offer from WHIFS came after Camden identified Liddell Road as the site where they plan to expand Kingsgate School. Camden does face a current shortfall of primary places and they need to add more places urgently. Regulation from the current government means Camden cannot simply open a new community school but are restricted to free schools or academies. However, they can expand an "outstanding" school such as Kingsgate. Camden's plans to expand Kingsgate School on Liddell Road will provide an additional 420 primary places.
Camden's own plan is not without controversy as in order to pay for the new school, they will need to raise the money themselves as central government will not fund a community school expansion. They plan to build flats and the additional Kingsgate School building on Liddell Road which is currently an industrial estate. This will mean the loss of 250 jobs according to the Save Liddell Road campaign.
If the free school builds on Liddell Road, they will also lose the same businesses and jobs because of the larger school buildings they would require. The total area of the Liddell Road site is just over 3 acres, by contrast, Hampstead School sits on just over 4. To put this in local perspective, WHIFS would like to squeeze the student population of Emmanuel and Hampstead schools onto a site only 3 times that of Beckford School. The facilities needed for both a primary and secondary are extensive. WHIFS has said they expect theirs will be a tall building in order to accommodate their needs.
It is hard to imagine that the WHIFS campaign is just about numbers as it would be Camden's legal obligation to address any shortfall of places. Dr. Craig is quoted in the Ham and High on 5/9/13 that Hampstead School is simply too big. "One of the problems people have with Hampstead School is that it is a massive school. It has 210 children in each year group.That is not much bigger than your average Camden school but a lot of people want a smaller, community school for their children. Part of going to school is being part of a community, but if your community is 1,500 people, it’s hard to feel like you belong.”
It is interesting that the school Dr. Craig now proposes is a two form primary (60 per year) with a 6 form secondary (180 per year) plus a sixth form. WHIFS would be the largest school in Camden and her secondary would only be one form short of Hampstead School. Dr. Craig has her numbers wrong again, the actual number of pupils in Hampstead School is 1,280, WHIFS would total 1,570.
As Brent residents have seen, all 3 of the free secondary schools due to open in September 2014 are still advertising for applicants. Only one has a confirmed site which is not looking in good shape. In an unusual twist, the College of North West London building on Priory Park Road, Kilburn will host Marylebone Boys School for two years whilst they build their permanent site on their secret Marylebone location.
Currently Camden has 170 unfilled Year 7 places and neighbouring Brent and Barnet have around 200 each. The addition of 3 new free schools in Brent and an academy in Barnet opening this September, on top of the free school added in Barnet in September 2013, add a total of over 700 additional secondary places per year group from September 2014.
The DfE final sign off on free schools is unpredictable. Many free schools have failed to open after being given initial funding to proceed, including the Institute of Education bid south of the Euston Road in Camden. Jeopardising the expansion of an outstanding primary school in order to make way for an all-through free school will deepen the primary place crisis.
Ultimately, the quality of education WHIFS would provide is unknown. What we do know is that Camden has an excellent record of running schools, with 95% rated as "good" or "outstanding" by OFSTED. The one school requiring improvement is nowhere near West Hampstead and Camden is working very hard to improve that school.
By contrast, one of WHIFS partner schools is an academy in Hertfordshire requiring improvement.