OpinioN8

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It has been confirmed to me (reliably) that the Education Funding Agency has chosen to requisition the old Ashmount Site from Islington Council, which they have the power to do, without paying any compensation to the Council.


The site is to be transferred without charge to private ownership; the site will be given to Bellevue Education Limited. Bellevue Education Ltd is a commercial (for profit) company, which runs a chain of nine for profit fee paying schools here, and in Switzerland. (ref1) Bellevue made profits last year of £1.5m on a turnover of £3.7m, so its what I believe one would call "a nice little business". (ref2) Although if you want to rush out and buy some shares you cannot at the moment as they are not publically listed. Instead the investors are venture capitalists based in Switzerland using Russian money. Perhaps there will be a flotation at some point in the future. I am sure we will be all poised to add a bit of diversity to our share portfolios.

This decision will have some consequences for Ashmount, and indeed other schools in Islington.

1. First the capital account for Islington schools is now short by 3 million pounds. This was the, rather conservative figure, that Islington had assumed would be available from selling the site, at a special low price, to a housing association. It might well have been more. Consequently all Islington schools will experience a further cut in capital allocations. This is, in accounting terms, a straightforward transfer of capital resources from all the community schools in Islington to Bellevue Education Ltd. Ashmount will be less affected than some of our colleagues in the short run as our building is new. So one would hope that for a few years at least our capital requirements will be low.

2. From 2014 there will be an additional 58 places at reception in this area. All the indications from actual admissions figures this year is that certainly in 2014 there will be a significant surplus of places created in the immediate area. This could have the effect of intensifying competition between schools as there may not be enough school pupils to go around. The Free School website states that it will use the same admissions system and criteria as other islington Schools so the schools likely to notice this are, (In order of distance from the old Ashmount site) Hargrave Park, Highgate Primary, Coleridge School, and furthest away, Ashmount. (Incidentally going by the photographs on the school web site they appear to expect that all their children will be white...ref 3). The "ripple effect" will certainly reach well into N8.

However it would be rash to jump to any conclusions about this as the Free School, at least in its first year may have significant difficulties in recruiting pupils. We know from the experience of other Free Schools that where they have been set up in areas where there are surplus school places that, untried as they are, parents are nervous of them. By definition they have no track record of any kind, no parental opinions, Ofsteds, or SATS. In this particular case there is also the issue of the building. We left it because it was terrible. We also left it because we knew that even spending millions of pounds one still ends up with a building which we thought not good enough for our children. We also know there were people in significant numbers who would not send their children to Ashmount because of the building. Our undersubscription only stopped when the move to the new building was fully confirmed. So it does seem to me, that even if they work out a way to clean the windows, that there is an issue here. 

On the other hand Bellevue Education may be willing to invest some of their own resources in marketing; were they to choose to do so they could certainly outspend any community school. A reason why they might do so is related to the otherwise puzzling point as to why Bellevue Education are interested in getting involved in running a Free Primary School from which they are not allowed to make a profit. The obvious answer is that the Conservatives believe that state schools should be allowed to be owned and run by profit making companies, on a profit making basis. This is not allowed at present, because the Liberal Democrats do not agree,. However Mr Gove has promised a number of times that should the Conservatives be elected to Government in the next election, fixed for the summer of 2014, when the Free School will have been open for less than a year, the law will be changed to allow Free Schools to be run at a profit. Bellevue Education could well feel that the old Ashmount Site represents a useful speculation. 

I would be interested in any comments, or further information, anyone might have.

ref1

blvue.com/

ref2

www.educationinvestor.co.uk/ShowArticle.aspx?ID=3012&AspxAutoDe...

ref3

www.islingtonfreeprimary.co.uk/

Tags: Ashmount, free, places, school

Views: 1482

Replies to This Discussion

The Tribune article identifies a second facet to the debate (I put strength of local feeling as the first) which is political dogma. 

The teachers' unions weigh in on the side of state intervention, which also happens to support their rights in the work place, while the Conservative minister favours state non-intervention, in an attempt to get better results from the private sector, which may also (I speculate) benefit his party and its members.

Quite possibly both sides are wrong. There is no doubt that state intervention leads to inefficiencies, with over manning , restrictive practices and the predominance of bureaucracy over common sense in decision making.

Privatisation on the other hand, quite probably leads to a very efficient operation - any Swiss based operation which makes such a huge profit on such a small turnover and whose assets increase so dramatically (figures are in the article) is clearly an efficient money making and retaining machine. Trouble is, it's public money, i.e. yours and mine.

The strength of local feeling argument probably has elements of right on both sides. The political dogma approach seems to be wrong on both sides. Shame the energy spent in arguing can't go into educating children.

I have no doubt that, as I write this, keyboards are being sharpened on behalf of ASAG to respond to the coverage in the Tribune. It was after all pretty hostile to their point of view, and while I am relaxed about that (!), I can see why they may feel it is not entirely fair. So we can be pretty sure that their side of the argument will be aired, forcefully, next week.

In the meantime you make three important points; That the NUT has started to make noises, that political dogma is getting involved, and what about the children while all this is going on anyway? While it would be good to get more people involved in this discussion, I will have a go at responding until someone else comes along.

The Political Dogma argument:

Obviously everyone will tend to say that the policy they favour is merely pragmatic, whereas their opponents are dogmatic.....

However in this case it is probably useful to distinguish between people who object to all Free Schools in principle, like the NUT, Islington Labour Party and the Local Schools Network, and those who object to this particular Free School, which is a wider group of people.

( For the reverse case, I would mention the example of the Eden School in Muswell Hill, which is a Jewish Free School. When that group, in this case parents, made their application, Haringey Borough's response was 1. We do not approve of Free Schools in general, BUT 2. We need the extra school places in Muswell Hill so we wish this particular project well. Incidentally they had a new building built on a site bought by the DFE from Fortismere School. Bought not requisitioned)

So in the case of the Islington Free School the particular issues are:

1. Requisition not purchase of the land

2. Transfer of an asset from public hands to private (profit making) hands.

2. Islington's contention that the proposed Free School, in this location is not needed.

(So while Haringey got an extra school, and so an extra 30 places, in a place it was needed, without the council being put to expense, Islington get an extra school at a cost to their capital account from which they pay for school building improvements, loose the opportunity to build social housing of which they are very short, and  as the school is in a location in which places are (the council maintain) not needed no upside for them.)

x

Welfare of Children.

The whole project to move Ashmount was about the welfare of the children concerned; It was the only motivator so far as the Governing Body were, and are concerned.

The decision as to what to do with the site once Ashmount left was solely  one for the council, they decided to use it for council housing to relive overcrowding. Among the worst victims of overcrowding are children... some of whom are pupils at Ashmount.

It is really important not to loose sight of this, all this is about the children. In the end.

First the NUT

Once an argument starts like this, and sides start to form, and alliances of convenience start to appear (politics with a small "p" was ever thus) We see a strange truth. You can choose your enemies in public controversy (Choose wisely!) but it seems, you cannot choose your friends...

The record of the NUT in these matters is patchy. All trade unions are set up to defend the interests of their members. That is their job. However I am sure that I am not the only person to be irritated by the occasionally self righteous tone they adopt in which they appear to hold that the self interest of their members always corresponds to the best interests of the children. When obviously sometimes it may not. It is quite proper for example, that an NUT member gets representation and support should competency proceedings be taken against them, but it is in the child's interest that they be taught by a teacher not up to the mark for not a moment longer. There is a real conflict of interest here, which is why there are procedures to resolve it. Also sometimes there was an element in the past of the NUT putting the short term interest of members ahead of school improvement.

I say in the past, because actually the ability of the NUT to influence things, is, for good or ill much reduced. It is worth noting that Mr Gove, for his own reasons, represents the teaching unions as much more powerful than they are, and seeks to goad them into action, so that they may be seen to have been defeated by him. It remains to be seen whether they will fall for this. He also likes to describe anyone who disagrees with him in any respect as an "enemy of promise" and a Trotskyist. But note these are not arguments. Just insults.

On this, as I am sure it will come out in The Tribune next week, I should remark that Ken Muller of the NUT is a member of the Socialist Workers Party. He makes no secret of it. This does mean that quite logically he disagrees with the "Free School" project of bringing the market  into education, as being a socialist he disagrees with markets in general. But note again, rejecting an argument because one of the people supporting it is in the SWP, is no sounder a method than rejecting an argument because it is advanced by UKIP. Although I can see that thinking this way saves time and effort.

There is lots of data in the attached Haringey file - PA2 is closest to the old Ashmount site

Attachments:

This would be a good opportunity to use some "crowd sourcing' on this; by which I mean lost of people looking at the stats and see what can be concluded.....

Anyway what I have picked out is that:-

1. In the area of Highgate, Crouch End, Hornsey, Stroud Green (served by these schools Campsbourne Infants, Coleridge Primary, Highgate Primary, Rokesly Infants, St Aidan's, St Mary's CE Primary, St Michael’s CE Primary N6, St Peter in Chains RC Infants, Stroud Green,Weston Park.) all applicants now have a place and there are three reception places unfilled. So no shortage of places this year, now confirmed.

2. The number of applicants, in each year showed a clear trend of increasing each year from 625 (in 2007) to a peak of 700 in (2011) and has now fallen in two successive years to this years total of 629.

3. During this time the supply of places increased by 90, which is why although there was a place shortage in 2007 on 625 applicants, there is none this year on 629.

Any thoughts on what might happen next year?

I'd like to correct some inaccuracies and "twisting of facts".

The Ashmount land is -- by law -- set aside for non-housing and can only be used for housing if no-one expresses a desire to use if for educational purposes. It would have been illegal therefore to hand it over for housing.

Islington is not now short £3 million for education. A school will be there. It may not be a traditional school, but it *is* a school. So let's stop kidding ourselves or downright lying about this, okay? 

What it will be short of is the money that Bellevue pockets as profit. If for no other reason, I must admit that for the DfE to have approved Bellevue on this point alone is morally questionable. The fact it is also a tax-dodging (?) Swiss company only makes this worse.

Further, I know the Oak School did a Demand Survey. I live in the area and I was accosted by them three times in a week! But as for Bellevue, I know NO-ONE who knows how Bellevue conducted its Demand Survey. No-one saw them. Ever. Does anyone here recall seeing them? Because if you did, please let us know.

So, bottom line, we will be getting a much-needed extra school in the area on a site that is strictly for educational purposes. Great. But it will be run by a company that is based out of Switzerland, that probably doesn't pay taxes, that keeps part of the educational fund for profit, and which -- if the evidence is to be believed -- never conducted the crucial demand survey..

How does the DfE explain that???

Hmm; well it is true that this whole debate has often had examples of twisting of facts by various people (of various facts). At the risk of sounding pious I have never knowingly twisted a fact, but of course there can be occasions in which interpretations of facts may very. And there can be matters of taste (I think the building unattractive to look at but some architects tell you it is marvellous in its modernist aesthetic). However you make some definite points, and actually accuse me of lying - which is a bit strong.  I will take the points you make in order, as I get around to it.

You write:

"The Ashmount land is -- by law -- set aside for non-housing and can only be used for housing if no-one expresses a desire to use if for educational purposes. It would have been illegal therefore to hand it over for housing.'

This is, if I may so so, a  misunderstanding of the legal position. It would have been perfectly legal to sell it. Not "hand it over" but sell it -there is a legal obligation on councils to get "best value' they are NOT allowed to "hand land over". It would have been legal if the Secretary of State for Education, in this case, Mr. Gove,  gave his consent.  Islington council  decided to sell the land (at a special, discounted price, by the way), to a housing Association to build social housing. So in order to do this they applied to Mr Gove for permission to sell off educational land, as the law requires. And Mr Gove has refused permission. Which he has the legal power to do. Howver he has also  used further, recent powers, to take the site without payment and hand it (yes, indeed "hand it") free of charge to a private, profit making company. 

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