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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.
David Barry is a mine of misinformation.
1. Although the Secretary of State has the power to take over land from a local authority for a free school without making any payment, that does not mean that is what will happen. If LB Islington negotiates the disposal then a sum like £3m might well be paid. Islington has that option and (this is an Islington council tax payer speaking) would be foolish to reject it.
2. There are additional places being created locally in primary schools by 'bulge classes'. These involve existing schools being required to take extra pupils in some cases in temporary Portakabin-type classrooms. Apart from obvious overcrowding problems, a principal problem with this approach, with the demographics showing that the 'bulge' will continue for as far ahead as predictions are being made, is how you fit in extra such classrooms year after year. Apart from these 'bulge' provisions, as has been shown again very recently by our detailed and publicly available figures, there is and will continue to be a shortage of primary school places round the old Ashmount site. The area has privately been acknowledged by those working in Islington education as a 'black hole' for primary school provision. If you live in some places near the old school site you are not in the catchment area of any primary school.
3. The new school has already enough interest expressed from parents to fill its 2014 intake.
4. David Barry is of course personally embarrassed as the principal reason he gave, as Chair of Governors of Ashmount School, for moving the School onto Metropolitan Open Land was that the school could not be refurbished, while as the new school will show, refurbishment was always the best option. LB Islington Labour Party seem by the Tribune's latest report to have acknowledged that the Council's decision-making in relation to Ashmount has been a 'fiasco'.
5.The attempts to smear Bellevue because they also run fee-paying schools is an own goal. This is not a fee-paying school and cannot be run for a profit. The law on that might change, but then again, it might not.
I do not know how many people read these posts, but however small the numbers are, you are entitled to the facts.
A number of interesting points here which I will take in order.
1. "Although the Secretary of State has the power to take over land from a local authority for a free school without making any payment, that does not mean that is what will happen."
Well we shall see. But Mr Gove is in the position, money being tight where he has a choice of paying 3 million pounds to a Labour controlled council, or of not paying the Labour council and having an extra Free School and thereby advancing his flagship policy. Which do most people reading this think will happen??
2. "There are additional places being created locally in primary schools by 'bulge classes'. These involve existing schools being required to take extra pupils in some cases in temporary Portakabin-type classrooms."
Oh the old "portakabins" claim again. And where are these going to be exactly, or are they like the "portakabins in overcrowded Coleridge?" you told the reporter from the Tribune about? and which any Coleridge parent, or indeed anyone who visited their well organised summer fair will know, do not exist.
The further general comment about "bulge classes" and "overcrowding" is also wrong. The term "bulge Class" is a technicality and relates to the particular legal framework under which they are created, in fact all the "bulge Classes" which is what you have to call a class created during the admissions process, were created with the full cooperation of the schools concerned and will be made permanent in time for the admissions process for autumn 2014. There is no over crowding as these are all schools that were larger in the past and reduced in size during the long period of falling school rolls, so the physical capacity is there, and can be brought back in to use at very little cost.
The really relevant point is that Islington only created extra places in popular schools located in the areas of demand ( three fourths of them in the south of the Borough).
The nearest creation of places to the old Ashmount site were 15 extra places at Hargrave Park School, which were actually required because of demand from the London Borough of Camden.
"Apart from these 'bulge' provisions, as has been shown again very recently by our detailed and publicly available figures, there is and will continue to be a shortage of primary school places round the old Ashmount site."
But despite many requests to do so, on the Whitehall park residents association web site for example, you have not published your figures.
So this is another request. if you want this argument to be taken seriously.
PUBLISH YOUR FIGURES
Just as Islington have done.
'If you live in some places near the old school site you are not in the catchment area of any primary school."
Not true. This year everyone near the old school site has had the choice of at least two schools. .
(The school admissions system, which Islington does not run, has two people in the whole area, broadly defined still holding out for a place at a preferred school through the operation of the waiting list system. Which they will probably get, but there are local places for them now, if they wanted to accept them. But they are likely right to hang on.)
I see that you have gone back to claiming that refurbishment of the school was always the "best option". Well all I can say is that Ashmount now has a magnificent new building, the first "zero carbon" school in the country. The architecture really is remarkable. The school is full of light and interesting vistas. And yet cool in bright sunshine, while really cosy during the January cold spell. The children love it very much, the teachers are delighted and last Sunday the PTA ran a marvellous summer fair for which all the various spaces inside and out turned out to be ideal. And indeed the location beside a park (and beside the Parkland Walk) is wonderful and all protected by its special status as Metropolitan Open Land.
So refurb away. Fix up the old building.
Its just a pity that when public money is so short that it be spent to so little practical effect on a worn out building, which does not even have the toilets in the right place.
"The attempts to smear Bellevue because they also run fee-paying schools is an own goal. This is not a fee-paying school and cannot be run for a profit. The law on that might change, but then again, it might not.'
I think you need to say more to substantiate the charge that I am smearing, or attempting to smear Bellevue. All the information I have has been provided by them. I was very careful to stick to the bare facts that:
1. They are a for profit company
2. They run a lot of fee paying for profit schools.
3. They are highly profitable.
4. They will not, under the current law, be allowed to run a "Free School" at a profit.
I then speculated that a reason why they MIGHT be interested in running Free Schools, despite the profit bar, is that they think there is a good chance this will change. Perfectly reasonable behaviour for venture capitalists seeking to position themselves for a new market in advance of it being opened up.
"I do not know how many people read these posts, but however small the numbers are, you are entitled to the facts.'
Oh, sneer away, but I have the consolation of knowing, that in you in any case, I appear to possess at least one devoted reader.
"The new school has already enough interest expressed from parents to fill its 2014 intake.'
How do you know this?
By the same methodology which led you to state on the Whitehall Park residents website on the 2nd of May 2013
"We have had a lot of responses to the recent request for information about where local children are being sent for reception classes in September 2013.........It seems that there are likely to be more than enough children to fill a class if Ashmount School were to reopen as a free school this year, and probably enough for 2 classes."
Well 2 classes is 60 children. So where exactly are these 60 children, near the old Ashmount site, and without school places? Well of course you did not say that there would be sixty, only that there "probably' would be sixty, but you certainly were sure there would be at least 30.
Based on the lack of any media coverage, or for that matter any casework for local councillors, combined with the actual figures generated by the admissions system two months on, and it would seem that your methodology this year lacked reliability.
So on what basis can we rely on it for NEXT years figures?
This is a story with many facets - for instance relating to the strength of feeling that can arise over local issues. Clearly David and Frances disagree very strongly.
I have tried to look at some of the claims.
The ASAG website is made up 4 pages none of which contains the name of a real person - I think Francis may be one of the people behind it, as may Barry Wise, who has contributed to this extensive discussion on the Local Schools Network.
There is a claim on the ASAG website that "ASAG has campaigned for the refurbishment or re-building of the school where it was, knowing this to be a far cheaper option (LBIs own commissioned study said so - see Miller Tritton report in full by following the useful link below)." [I have added the link to the report]. I have been through the Miller Tritton report and the pound sign (£) appears 4 times - twice in quotes from potential suppliers, and twice in setting out the original cost of the school. I have not found the reference which sets out that refurbishment is cheaper than moving elsewhere.
At first glance it appears that ASAG has put its weight behind a relatively sentimental argument in favour of keeping a building they love. The decision to move Ashmount is less sentimental and perhaps more difficult to accept, even though it may be right. Perhaps the new custodians are not sentimental either - this website for the proposed new Islington Free School refers only to the 'site' and not to the building - maybe wrecking balls will yet be on the agenda.
The Islington Tribune is a "Free sheet" which does not get much further North than Archway but thanks to the wonders of the internet...