Thursday 10 November 2022

'We want your school to stay open but we don't want it here' Islamia Primary School Consultation

 Extra chairs had to be brought into the hall of Preston Park Primary School last night as residents flocked to the last public consultation about the move of Islamia Primary School to the area. The mood of the often-rowdy meeting can be summed up by one comment shouted from the floor to the Islamia Chair of Governors, 'We want your school to stay open, but we don't want it here.'


The Chair of Governors Sofia Moussaoui was flanked on the platform by other members of the Governing Board, the pastoral adviser to the pupils, Shirley Parks, Brent Interim Operational Director, Safeguarding, Partnerships and Strategy and the Brent Council Transportation officer responsible for School Travel Plans. Several councillors were present including Cllr Gwen Grahl, Cabinet member for Children Young People and Schools. Cllr Grahl was initially incognito in the audience but perhaps should have been on the platform to give support when Shirley Parks was showered with sometimes angry questions. Both were only appointed to their posts in May of this year.


The headteacher of Islamia Primary School was unable to be present because he had been involved in an accident that evening and there was no representative of the Yusuf Islam Foundation, that has served an eviction notice on the school, in attendance.


At the beginning of the meeting there were complaints that local people had not been consulted, some had only heard about the plans for the move a week ago (they clearly don't read Wembley Matters!), and many had not read the consultation paper before coming to the meeting. The school had made some copies, and these were distributed.   The Chair of Governors denied a claim that locals who had given their emails in order to receive further information at the last meeting had not received anything.


As well as local residents the meeting was attended by a group of Islamia parents who were vociferously opposed to the move because of the difficulty of travelling from their homes in what they said was a 6-mile journey four times a day.  They had suggested in a 509-signature petition that Brent Council should make the proposed South Kilburn site, earmarked for the, to be merged, Kilburn Park Junior School and Carlton Vale Infant School, available to Islamia instead. They cited very low numbers in both the schools in contrast to the 420 pupils at Islamia.


Shirley Parks said that this was not possible because a community school. open to all, was essential on the estate as it developed, and the population rose. Work had already started in the two schools towards occupation of the new premises. The new school was part of the long-term plans for the area and needed to be open to all pupils, not those from just one religious group. In any event the new building would not be available until well after Islamia's eviction deadline from the Queens Park site.


After many interventions from the floor, including suggestions that the closed South Kilburn Job Centre site could be used, the Chair of Governors said that if there was a possibility of a move to South Kilburn the Islam Yusuf Foundation could be approached to delay the eviction until a new site there was available.


Residents already concerned about traffic congestion in the area, particularly at school run times when cars often drove on the pavement, were shocked when Sophia Mousssaoui revealed that 160 parents had said they would travel to the site by car, 51 by bus, 58 by train and one cycling. When pressed she was unable to say how many parents would not be able to travel to the new site at all. The 223 bus that runs close to the site is already over-crowded at school times.


There was derision from the audience when a School Travel Plan was mooted as a solution. It was claimed that Islamia did not have an extant Travel Plan on its current site and the Travel Plans of schools in the Preston area made little difference.


Cllr Kennelly, Preston ward councillor, said that the environment and meeting climate targets needed to be considered when looking at traffic issues. If the move were to go ahead there was the challenge of how to make it work. There would be a need to reduce the number of cars making the journey as low as possible.  

A resident from SKPRA (South Kenton and Preston Residents Association) asked why a request to see the feasibility plans for the Strathcona Road site had not been published. He doubted that there would be adequate playground space and whether it would meet DfE standards for a 2 form entry primary school. Shirley Parks replied that there was a caveat on the study that meant it could not be published.


The question of how many pupils would not be able to travel to the new school because of transport difficulties or special needs gave rise to two concerns.


Firstly, if numbers dropped would Islamia still be viable? Shirley Parks responded that there were many successful one form entry primary schools in Brent (in fact there are only a handful) and Islamia could operate as a one form entry school.  The Chair of Governors said there would be plenty of demand from neighbouring areas - that produced cries from the audience about more car journeys and the impact on the Council's Climate Emergency Strategy.


Secondly, if there were spare places at Islamia once established, would local Muslim children transfer from their present schools, threatening the viability of those schools that were already facing falling rolls and budget issues? Shirley Parks said that parents did not tend to move children from their current schools but there would be impact at Reception level when parents choose their child's future school. A question on how schools were funded was not answered but there is an amount allocated per pupil so that would make an impact if classes were only half full. In the 1970s when falling rolls hit London there were some schools where year groups were merged to make mixed age classes.


A member of the audience suggested that some schools, low in pupil numbers could be merged on one site and the building vacated allocated to Islamia. Shirley Parks said that a review of primary provision was in progress.


Emerging at times during this discussion was whether voluntary aided faith schools should exist at all. Shouldn't Brent as a multi-cultural and multi-religious borough have mixed schools open to all?  Cllr Michael Maurice, citing his own children attending the Jewish Free School l(JFS), mounted a strong defence of faith schools and Islamia's right to exist. Members of the audience quoted the number of schools in the borough of various faiths, compared with only one Muslim primary school.  Islamia was popular, followed the National Curriculum and had received a Good Ofsted Report LINK.


A resident raised 'the elephant in the room', Yusuf Islam and his Foundation and the fact that the Foundation had been given the opportunity to redevelop the Islamia site to improve provision by Brent Council, with funding, a long time ago but the Foundation had ended the discussion. There was an 'education use' only covenant on the site so the Foundation would be using it to expand their private secondary provision:


 'Yusuf Islam is going to get a free site and Brent Council will pay £10m to move the school.'


I pointed out that the Foundation's actions had divided the community and Yusuf Islam had not responded to requests for a comment on the situation.


A former Islamia Primary pupil who had gone on to the private secondary school spoke in defence of Yusuf Islam and the foundation.  He had put his own money into the project and the Foundation was a charity, he was not making money out of it. He should be accorded respect.


Amid this a member of the audience who works on Pupil Voice in local schools asked if children had been spoken to about their views and how this affected them as they would have heard what was going on. Shirley Parks said from a safeguarding point of view she would be concerned that such discussions would worry the children. However, the member of Islamia staff responsible for pastoral care and said that there had been questions from pupils and that these could be addressed through the Pupil School Council. 


The issue of lack of provision of information to local residents came up again. Sophia Moussaoui said that the Governing Board could not be expected to leaflet every home in the area. The parent who had organised the petition, Jamad Guled, said that she had prepared a leaflet for distribution to residents informing them of the plans but had been barred from distributing it by the Governing Board. The chair of the Board said they had seen the leaflets and that it was written as if from an outsider and they thought that it would create panic and division in the community.


Contributing from the audience Gwen Grahl, Brent Council Lead Member for Young People and Schools, said she recognised that this was a difficult situation. Brent Council had been approached by the Islamia Governing Board for help when the school received the eviction notice. Islamia was obviously a very popular and successful school and unique as the only Muslim state school in Brent. She understood that other schools were being built in Brent but the site in South Kilburn was inappropriate for a lot of reasons. Teachers, parents, and pupils of the merging schools were really excited about moving to the new school and in any case, it was not opening until 2023.


Cllr Grahl said that it was her job to scrutinise the council officers to make sure they were doing their jobs properly and she could assure residents and parents that they had looked at every single option for finding a site nearer to Queens Park. The Yusuf Islam Foundation had commissioned their own search and couldn't find a site either:


 'You can't build a site just anywhere it has to be big enough and accessible and crucially available in the very small window to 2024.' 


She recognised that there had been some problems with the informal stage of the consultation, not least that the Governing Board had not expected to have to undertake the consultation process. As a result of representations from the ward councillors the consultation period was extended, and the Council played a bigger role in ensuring the process was transparent and organising additional meetings. It was going to be her job to steer any proposal through Cabinet:


If I am not satisfied that either parents of the school or residents support the proposal, or its not feasible for any other reason, then I won't be voting for it. So, I ask everyone to engage in the consultation. We want to hear from you, but to be honest, my challenge was that 420 children go to a school, and it's going to close. I wish that it could have been able to remain in Queens Park - I wish they hadn’t been evicted.


This is the proposal that we have managed to come up with. The capital funding comes from Strategic CIL and is not coming from any other Council department. It had to be allocated as here is no guarantee that it would be available at a later date.


Cllr Grahl went on to assure that audience that the Council was here to listen and would see what happened at the end of the process. She finished, 'In terms of options I really wish there was another option, but there isn't one.'


 The Chair of Governors Sofia Moussaoui said that the Governing Board did not want to move either but were faced with the stark choice, 'Move or close'.


Anonymous said...

There is a simple answer to all the problems raised, which meets the wants of virtually everyone at the meeting.

The Yusuf Islam Foundation needs to change its mind, and allow the Islamia Primary School which it set up to stay in the school buildings that the Foundation owns in Queens Park.

Martin Francis said...

Yes I was speaking after the meeting to residents and parents and suggested a concerted campaign, hopefully wiith Barry Gardiner's and councillors' support along with Muslim community organisations calling for the eviction notice to be withdrawn. Unfortunately the school is not a leaseholder but a licence holder so have few rights and the Governing Board unlikely to take the Foundation on.

Equally unfortunate is that this issue is not getting wider coverage.

Anonymous said...

Martin, why do you think Councillors can help when it is obvious Butt wants this to happen?

David Walton said...

Ditto.... the massive upheavals Brent October proposes in London Plan Grey Grow Only, Tall Building Zoned South Kilburn car-free town

Anonymous said...

Absolutely they need to stay in the building they occupy noe

Anonymous said...

The school is failing. I can't wait for the move. I'm hoping it will give the school a clean break and maybe in 3 years it can change names and break ties with the past

Anonymous said...

As for Islamia getting a free site... I think they get the site they paid for back. The school which is run with interference from Brent and the ungrateful rude parents of current cohort will hopefully not use the tube to travel to the new site. I think way too many of these children are driven in.

Anonymous said...

Someone suggested a compulsory purchase so that YIF cannot evict the school. Why not? People saying it is a charity. They charge families over £7.5 k a year in the independent schools. The primary is state funded so no use to them.

Anonymous said...

You can't waut to move where? Somewhere you and your kids will be resented because people cannot get out of their drives due to stupid levels of traffic? I am sure it will be great for family wellbeing and community cohesion. Also the school just got rated good by Ofsted, not sure how it is failing. DC.

Anonymous said...

Not wanting to drive our kids miles to attend school makes us rude? Breaking News :The school can move to Outer Mongolia we will follow it. And maybe Brent can be a referee when parents and South Kenton residents will inevitably wrestle each other to the ground due to parking mayhem. All this because people in position of authority don't care about lives. DC.

Anonymous said...

The ‘eviction’ notice is consensual, it is so the council pay for a school and Yusuf Islam gets the money back for more charitable endeavour. Likely as a result of building a large block of flats on the site.

Martin Francis said...

After I published an item suggesting the site was protected by a covenant, restricting it to educational use, the Foundation appeared to indicate it would be used to extend the current fee-paying schools on the adjacent site. An application could of course be made to remove the covenant. The Foundation does hace several properties the rent of which goes towards their charity.

Martin Francis said...

Re Anon at 21.06 Cllr Michael Maurice (Conservative Kenton but lives in ward) made that suggestion. I assumed it was tongue in cheek. Perhaps he will correct me.

Anonymous said...

I'm sure a school existed in the very recent past at the proposed site, so why are residents up in arms for another school using the site? This stinks of racism! Blaming Yusuf Islam is ludicrous when Brent have not been willing to plan appropriately in the past. This is not a new issue!

Any other school would have had a new site years ago, why not Islamia?

Anonymous said...

Totally agree. Butt wants it to happen plus it will look good on his CV

Anonymous said...

Was Butt also in favour of the closure of Strathcona? Was there some kind of deal with the Foundation to deliver that school? The timings seem very strange indeed.

Anonymous said...

The school was a small 1FE mainly attended by very local families. Under current proposal it will be a 2FE school with parents driving from all over the borough. I do not think it is racism from locals. They have the right to get on with their lives without being crippled with traffic and illegal parking. Now Brent is a different story. They know it is not a viable solutions and will create hostility. They clearly do not want a Muslim school to exist. If they did they would have found a solutions years ago.

Anonymous said...

There must be a way to stop decisions that will negatively impact the environment. This is bonkers.The council offered that site to lslamia. They know people will drive there because it is not any other school. It is the only Muslim one in the borough. How will they mitigate that? There are also concerns in terms of discrimination because less well off families and those with SEN children will find it difficult to travel.
Did the governing body request it or did the council suggest it? Because it appears both parties do not care about the environment, South Kenton residents or the wee children.

Anonymous said...

If school goes ahead, and with possible 400 car extra journeys a day, my fundamental right to breathe clean air will be further violated. All school children in the area will be exposed to damaging car fumes and this may trigger breathing issues forever

Anonymous said...

As already pointed out- Anon 11 November 2022 at 15:03 is ignorant of the facts.

The facts are - (and they are not racist or blaming Yusaf Isalm)

1) The IPS school is more than four times larger than the one closed by Brent Council at the Strathcona site in July 2022. This served local children and had a green travel plan for access - a London Transport - Gold standard plan.

2) Brent Council forced the closure of this school on ground of insufficient children and running cost so the preston community is right to be outraged that less than six months later Brent council propose a new school for 420 children who are not local, at a cost of £10m of public funds.

3) The IPS has no travel plan. The governors told the meeting that 160 cars will travel to the site every day twice a day even though this is less than the number of children going to school by car at the moment – when the school is on average two miles from home. This does not include the 60+ staff who will drive to the site - 120 more car journeys a day.

4) When the IPS school had a travel plan the parents in cars asked the Council to stop issuing parking tickets so they could break the law and park anywhere near the school. This was confirmed at the meeting.

5) The Council claims it is 'listening' to residents and parents but has already appointed a construction team for the new school at the Strathcona site.

The Council also published a 'borough plan' last week where it commits to deliver ‘localised services’ - that is ‘local’ a twelve-mile journey away!

6) It is not true that Brent Council did not plan for a new school. I had family working at the Council at the time and Brent Council paid for a new school to be designed and had funding for it to be built at the present site. Yusuf Islam or the Foundation refused allow it to be built.

7) The school has not had a new building for the last six to ten years because brother Yusuf or the foundation would not let Brent Council build it at the site. (This is not ‘ludicrous blaming Yusuf’ - if he made that decision, he is responsible for there being no new school).

8) Yusuf or the foundation have evicted the school and then sought to gain control over the new site and the new building by delaying the eviction in return for a deal to own the new school.

Neither the Council safeguarding director nor the IPS governors seem to understand the needs of the children who have human right to be educated close to their homes in their community. This is the normal education service for children in the borough and the law and is the definition of 'localised services'. Why is it not available to Muslim children?

When faced with the choice of responding to the very serious issues raised by preston residents the people responsible for this disastrous decision (YI, Foundation, IPS Governors, Brent Council) either talk about ‘listening’ or ‘consulting’ (which means ignoring or facing down) or like Anon 15:03 prefer to shout 'racist' than address the issues.

The preston community will not be intimidated by people shouting 'ludicrous', 'racist' or islamaphobic' - we have a strong community of all faiths and people of no faiths.

We have parents and children whose lives have been recently severely disrupted by the stupid decision of Brent Council to close the Roe Green annexe at the Strathcona site.

We will not be ignored by the Council Officers or IPS Governors pretending to ‘listen’ and ‘consult’ while making decisions that ignore us and to go ahead with the project.

Our opposition is deep and sustained.

We do not want the children in Kilburn suffering as our children did when their school was closed. But we will not be blackmailed by IPS governors telling us this site or close the school.

We will not have our roads filled up further with hundreds of cars or our existing schools closed as a result of the decisions of this corrupt and uncaring Brent Council.

Anonymous said...

I feel for the children but we do not need more cars/pollution in Preston Park. Who had this stupid idea?This lot are clearly not fit to run a school if they do not care about the children enrolled. This whole saga has highlighted Brents cluelessness, the governing body's incompetence and outed Yusuf / Cat Stevens as a greedy, manipulative and selfish man. Not very charitable to kick 400 kids to the kerb. Shame.

Anonymous said...

11 November 2022 at 15:03 should apologise and withdraw the comment. Clear evidence of reasonable objections no racism. Well done to residents pointing this out.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Anon 14 November 2022 at 14:10. I was at the meeting. It was not about racism. Residents shared really concerning issues including serious inability to leave their homes due to traffic and inconsiderate parking. Even in case of emergency. Also the pollution levels will be mad and l feel for the lungs of residents and all the children from schools in the area. I am a parent at Islamia and l feel seriously daunted at the idea of the school moving there not only because my work will suffer, my children will be impacted but also because people in South Kenton will resent the situation ( righly so because their quality of will be diminished ) and this is not of our own making. DC.