Connecting Crouch End and Hornsey with news, views and information
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.
I filled in a demand questionnaire. It was, and still is, freely available on the Islington Free Primary site.
Before a Free School is set up, the proposers have to hold a consultation with the community the school is supposed to serve. It is a statutory requirement. The timetable for the proposed Free School using the old Ashmount building is challenging, and it was expected that the consultation would be really soon. In fact a fortnight ago the DfE told me that the consultation was going to start last week. Which obviously it did not. It now seems there has been a change of plan.
In an email sent this evening the DfE said:
"The proposer group have decided to delay the start of their statutory consultation until later in the year, on the basis that the Department’s discussions with Islington Borough Council about a potential site for the free school are still on-going and the proposers would prefer to undertake their consultation once they have a site clearly identified.The proposers are in the process of producing a new website for the free school and a re-direct facility will be added to their existing website by early next week, details of the consultation will appear on their new website in due course."
The phrase "once they have a site identified" would suggest that matters are not as certain as the current web site suggests.To quote from the site as it was tonight:-
"The school plans to open in September 2014 with two Reception classes of 28 pupils on the former site of Ashmount Primary School at Hornsey Rise in the London Borough of Islington. The site will be refurbished and updated to meet the needs of the new school."
No doubt a reason for changing it.
As free schools continue to hit the headlines, the consultation on the N8 site is online until 28 October to collect resident/ parent views.
Opponents of the free school have organised a public meeting - chaired by Islington MP Jeremy Corbyn - 7.00pm Thursday 24 October at Christ Church Hall, Crouch End Hill, N8 8AX. All welcome.
Whitehall Park School: A new Consultation! You have a week to respond!
(Whitehall Park School, is the name now given to the proposed
"Islington Free School" which Bellevue Ltd wish to set up using the
old Ashmount Primary School site in Islington, to be appropriated for
them by the DfE).
The first consultation referred to above ran from Monday 15 September to Monday 26 October 2013
The consultation was the one required by law, and there is usually only one of them. But this
time, there is going to be a second one. (I wonder why?)
When Islington Officers returned to work after Christmas they were to
discover a second, unexpected, consultation is now being held. One
of them did a detailed check of the school website looking for
developments and found the consultation hidden under a menu. (Ie not
on the homepage but several clicks in, under a button labelled
"consultation" which until shortly before had pointed to a brief note
about the first consultation, and saying it was over...) Bellevue,
whom it appears are organizing it as well, have not publicised it,
either by sending it out on their email list which is otherwise
active with announcements regarding the "progress being made towards
opening the school in 2014" on the old Ashmount site, or otherwise -
In fact after he contacted me it became apparent that no one seems to
have heard about it.
This is the announcement: I am not clear when it was actually made.
Bellevue Place Education Trust (BPET) is entering into an additional
period of consultation relating to the site of the proposed Whitehall
Park School. The consultation period is open now and will run until
12 noon on Tuesday 21st January 2014.
Following discussions with the Department for Education and the
Education Funding Agency, BPET is now able to name the preferred site
of the school as the site of the former Ashmount Primary School at
Ashmount Road, Islington N19 3BH.
The Trust welcomes any comments in respect of the plan to locate the
proposed school on this site. To participate in the consultation,
please email any comments to email@example.com
Specifically, we would like your answer to the following questions:
Do you think the proposed Whitehall Park School should open on the
site of the former Ashmount School at Ashmount Road, Islington N19 3BH
Please explain your reasons for your answer to question 1
Please give any further comments that you would like to be considered
in our consultation
All comments must be received by 12 noon on 21st January 2014"
My own views on this are well known, I shall respond by opposing it.
By posting it here I am giving you the opportunity to express your
own opinion, for or against. An opportunity Bellvue seem to wish to
deny you by not telling you about it!
It is a bizarre consultation that has no apparent cause; gives no clue as to what will be done with the comments received, and terminates after the closing date for applications for entry to the school.