What do you think of the plan for a new free School in Islington?

(96 Posts)
nlondondad Sun 30-Jun-13 22:26:53

This January an Islington Community School, Ashmount, vacated its old building and site near Hornsey lane, London N19 and moved to a magnificent new building on a lovely site in Crouch Hill Park N8 a short distance done the road in January of this year. The future of the school has been secured.

Islington expected to raise at least some of the cost of the new building for Ashmount by selling the old site, at a discounted price to a housing association. They thought they would get about 3 million, but if sold on the open market, the site large, and in between Highgate and Crouch End would have raised ten million. The Council were in effect making a political decision to sacrifice money for social housing. Housing which they had promised to build in their election manifesto on which they had successfully defeated the outgoing Liberal democrat administration.

Last week it was learnt 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 for a Free School. Bellevue Education Ltd is a commercial (for profit) company, which runs a chain of nine for profit fee paying schools here, and in Switzerland. Bellevue made profits last year of £1.5m on a turnover of £3.7m, so it’s what I believe one would call “a nice little business”. 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.

nlondondad Wed 03-Jul-13 22:02:22

But further to the renovation question I would point out what the independent planning Inspector said about the Council's view about renovation

"it is clear that refurbishment of the school buildings has been thoroughly investigated and has led to the conclusion that they cannot be easily adapted to meet modern educational standards."

Note "cannot be easily adapted" of course she accepted it COULD be done, but would it be a sensible use of public money? There is also the point that at some stage renovation, or refurbishment shades over into rebuilding....

For example as it is four stories with no lift, and there is no way of installing a lift internally the building cannot "easily" be made wheelchair accessible. The new building at Crouch Hill is fully accessible to the highest Disability Discrimination Act standards.

nlondondad Wed 03-Jul-13 22:21:26

@scaevola

You wrote:

"You are not mentioning either the conservationists or the residents campaign against change of use."

Yes there are conservationists, and in particular the 20th Century Society who campaign for the building to be preserved. They regard it as an important example of modernism.

You can see their views here, complete with photo of building.

www.c20society.org.uk/news/cadbury-brown-school-should-be-listed/

There are also some residents who share this view, it seems. What they have in common is no experience of what it is like to use the building.

It is a box made out of steel frames and single glazed glass, so where other buildings have walls this building has glass. Dirty glass - no provision was made for it to be got at, to be cleaned. It is hugely hot in summer, and in winter it is the most expensive school to heat, for its size, in London. The glass panels are all working loose from the steel, so the building draughty also, and an expensive maintenance program, involving scaffolding, needed to keep the building safe (stopping the panels from dropping out -glass panels falling four stories to a children's playground, or into Hornsey Lane, not a risk one can take). Despite there being four stories no lift, or place to install one, so no disabled access. And equipment has to be hauled up all those stairs. The staircases are too narrow. Classrooms have to be accessed through other classrooms causing disturbance. The toilets are in the wrong place and on the ground floor only. The electrics and plumbing, both of which are wearing out, were embedded in concrete. The place has loads of asbestos, safe if not disturbed, but clearly a hazard during a refurb. When it rains, leaks. When it rains, the phones stop working. .

The view from the top floor is rather good, though.

TheNewBrown Wed 03-Jul-13 22:33:22

@nlondondad

Taking the shortest distance criteria from that other thread you mention I would not have got into Ashmount or Coleridge this year and using the Hargrave park and Rokesly figures from last year (the only figures I have) I would not have got in there either. But my situation is what it is and I am only really mentioning it here as being representative of a wider problem.

There must be lots of people across London like me who have the illusion of choice in schools, and diligently look round schools, and choose their 6 schools in preference order on their application form but the reality is they will then be crossing their fingers and desperately hoping that they get even one of those 6 allocated to them.

I am no particular fan of free schools or Michael Gove but surely the opening of any new school in Islington (free or not) can only have a positive effect. Having a slight surplus of school places is much more desirable than having just the right amount of places because the surplus will create real choice for parents. It would also create competition for pupils between schools which would probably force schools to raise their standards rather than being guaranteed being oversubscribed on the basis of geography.

RussiansOnTheSpree Wed 03-Jul-13 22:48:27

I do not see how taking money away from the other schools in Islington, to give as a capital contribution to a private company, can have a positive effect on anyone other than the employees and shareholders of the private company.

nlondondad Wed 03-Jul-13 23:48:36

@Thenewbrown

On admissions black holes let me reassure you regarding this year. If you are to the west of the Ashmount and Coleridge first round of offers radius this year, then you, on this years figures are within range of Rokesly and Hargrave Park, you would not have been last year, true, but this year you are. So you had a choice of two schools.

Coleridge had an exceptionally large number of siblings this year, (as did Yerbury as it happens), so the radius of both those schools will likely be larger next year. Coleridge has enveloped the whole of Whitehall Park in the recent past. As Islington as planning to add another 15 to Hargrave Park next year, you can expect that radius to at least hold. So I would predict a choice of two schools again next year.

Of course if the Free School does open that will create a "whitehole" instead, but that would still only give you one extra school choice, assuming of course the Free School did not under enroll, and have its opening aborted a few weeks before the start of Autumn term 2014, as has been known to happen when a Free School fails to recruit. (For example a Free Secondary School in Bradford, "The One in a Million Free School lost funding after it failed to attract enough pupils. Government cash for the institution was withdrawn a week before the doors were due to open on 3 September 2012" source BBC website. It seems the school will open this autumn instead, but a bit hard on those pupils from last year.)

As a parent I would also be concerned that my child was going to be educated in a building vacated as not fit for the purpose by Islington. And it would be the building that would cause enrollment problems.

nlondondad Thu 04-Jul-13 00:01:59

@RussiansOnTheSpree

Yes it is the money really, well put. There is the transfer to the private company of 3 million form all the other Islington community schools as you point out. But more subtly every child taken by the new school, who would have been in an Islington community school represents a further transfer as money follows pupils. Then there is the cost of refurbishing the building. This does not come out of Islington, but out of Mr Gove's funds, but as these are limited it means that children short of a school elsewhere where there IS a shortage of places loose out.

muminlondon Thu 04-Jul-13 00:25:42

Asbestos and phones that don't work when it rains. No disabled access. A school indeed fit for the twentieth century society.

nlondondad Thu 04-Jul-13 10:18:35

@scalevola

You wrote:

"It was folly to set a deficit budget - the uncertainly of future use of the site has been going on since at least 2009 and it has never been clear it could be sold, or if so when."

No "deficit budget" was ever set.

You are obviously referring to the practical implications for Islington of the transfer of 3 Million pounds worth of assets from public ownership, by Islington, to private ownership by the shareholders of Bellevue Ltd.

An asset they had an entirely reasonable expectation that they could turn into cash, at some point, which they could then use to improve Islington Schools.

Preliminary discussions regarding the Ashmount move began at least nine years ago. An initial, in house feasability study reported eight years ago. It was around that time that a very conservative value was put on the site as part of a scenario, where it was sold on the open market for housing. The officers who did the valuation said it had to be very conservative as there was no way of knowing, in 2005 what the state of the market would be when the project was complete.

The council is required by law to value its assets, and get best value for them. So had the council decided, for example to use the site as a public park, then the council would have had to "buy" it from itself.

The 3 million figure was arrived at by prudent officers, which is why actually I think it is rather higher, a point of which no doubt Bellevue Ltd who have lobbied hard for this PARTICULAR site are well aware.

It is as if you owned a house, and decided to move out of it, and bought a new one, without having sold the first one. And you arranged all your finance on that basis, that you had not sold the first house, nor, due to market uncertainty did you know when, or if, it would sell.

By not assuming any money from the possible sale of your first property you would be being very prudent in the way you conducted your affairs.

Then the council step in, seize your first house, and hand it to a private landlord to rent out for their benefit. YOU have not actually LOST any money have you? So what would you have to complain of?

meditrina Thu 04-Jul-13 10:27:58

Oh! I must have completely misunderstood the point about the £3m shortfall then, if they didn't set a deficit budget. For committing spending against a gain you have not accrued and cannot be sure if/when you will ever accrue is setting a deficit budget.

But it is good news that they have no shortfall as you assert there is no deficit.

scaevola Thu 04-Jul-13 10:37:50

I would consider this, and your house-sellers example, to be deficit budgets.

If you commit to spend money you haven't got yet, you run a risk of huge additional expense (whether bridging loan, or having to cut back in other areas to rebalance your budget). This is what has happened here, and they need to plug the hole in their finances that is left by the unrealised prediction. After all, the future of this site has been under debate for years. To put something of such uncertain timing and outcome into a definite commitment to spend in one particular FY budget is risky. If the budget planners were unaware of the risk, they were incompetent. Or perhaps just reckless?

RussiansOnTheSpree Thu 04-Jul-13 11:12:14

nlondon Did the council include the (obviously unrealised) projected gain from the potential future sale of the land in setting their budgets? Or was the land merely - correctly, in accordance with accepted principles - in the accounts at valuation? I suspect the latter.

I also suspect that some people don't realise this is not America.

It seems to me that nobody is whining because they had mentally already spent the money. They are unhappy because their (prudently valued) assets have been misappropriated.

nlondondad Thu 04-Jul-13 16:05:06

@RussiansOnTheSpree

Your post, directly above this one of mine is exactly right. The land was merely in the accounts at valuation. And at a very prudent valuation. The officers erred on the side of caution as the only way of finally checking the valuation was to actually offer the site for sale. However as it is a low, historic valuation, it is reasonable to say that the assets being seized are worth at least 3 million probably more.

nlondondad Thu 04-Jul-13 16:35:56

@scaevola

you wrote: "I would consider this, and your house-sellers example, to be deficit budgets"

Well @Russians has explained that how it was not a deficit budget on the part of the Council. regarding the "house sellers' example, being not a very original person I used an example that had actually happened to me. I obviously did not explain it clear enough.

Once upon a time, I owned a flat, a very small flat, bought some time ago, which now had the mortgage paid off. Over the time in which the mortgage diminished, the number of incomes in the household had increased from one to two, and the incomes themselves had gone up a bit. However the size of the household then increased and the growing toddler needed more room. However the time we wanted to move was in the big housing trough of the 1990's, so the bad news was that we could not sell the flat, despite lowering the price, we had no offers at all, so really we had no idea what it was "worth". The good news was that the house we wanted to buy in the Whitehall Park Area was lower in price than it might have been, tho' if we had been able to sell the flat we would have had a bigger budget, it was a bit of a financial squeeze.

So, using some savings for the deposit, we bought the house we live in, a stones throw from the old Ashmount site, with a mortgage that we could afford the payments on, at the same time continuing to pay the small mortgage out of income, that we had on the old flat. As I said before.

WE DID NOT ASSUME ANY MONEY FROM THE SALE OF THE FIRST PROPERTY AS WE DID NOT KNOW WHEN, OR IF, WE COULD SELL IT.

(Which is the same position the council took over the value of the Ashmount site, you dont know how much you will get until you get it, and you do not, as you are prudent, spend any money on expectation.)

Now if Tower Hamlets Council, which is where the flat was, had come along and seized our flat, without compensation and handed it to a private landlord to rent out for their benefit, would you still argue that the loss of this asset was not really a loss? And that it was Ok for the flat I paid for now to be someone else's property, free?

nlondondad Fri 05-Jul-13 18:27:24
nlondondad Sun 07-Jul-13 21:29:44

So far a gap in my information as been what is happening in Haringey.

This matters, because Borough Boundaries have no effect on whether people are offered places or not, so any shortage of places there could overspill. Also the old ashmount site is ten metres from the boundary with Haringey, so half the catchment would, as a matter of geometry, be in Haringey. Anyway this is the latest from Haringey Admissions, as of this week.

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.

nlondondad Mon 08-Jul-13 08:57:21

There was brief coverage of this on the BBC London News last night; di anyone else see it? It mentioned a statement from the DFE in which they said that they were talking to the council, which they are (according to council officers in conversation with me, the problem is the DFE are talking, not listening...) but it also said they were consulting with the local community. Does anyone know about this? Has anyone living in the general area, and reading this, been consulted? Can you tell us about it, if you have?

sammisatt Mon 08-Jul-13 16:28:30

I caught the last bit of the coverage but it sounded like nothing was set in stone yet. Is that right?

nlondondad Mon 08-Jul-13 17:05:17

here is the link for iPlayer; the program ran for an hour, the Free School" item is about 40 minutes in.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b036c4gv/Sunday_Politics_London_07_07_2013/

nlondondad Mon 08-Jul-13 17:06:28

here is the link for iPlayer; the program ran for an hour, the Free School" item is about 40 minutes in.

www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b036c4gv/Sunday_Politics_London_07_07_2013/

GreenEggsAndNaiceHam Mon 08-Jul-13 20:49:05

No consultation this far south, although I suppose we don't count as local being at the top of Camden. I was in Archway library this afternoon and didn't notice any posters or flyers

nlondondad Mon 08-Jul-13 22:38:43

The council are not aware of any consultation either, I have emailed the MP for Islington North, to see if he will ask the DFE to say who is being, or has been consulted.

nlondondad Mon 08-Jul-13 22:50:55

The relevant statement from the DFE, repeated at then end of the discussion on the "Sunday Politics " programme is

"We have identified the former site of Ashmount Primary as a possible site for an approved free school and we are in contact with Islington Council about its use. However, no decisions have been taken and discussions with the proposers, council and local community are still in the very early stages."

Well one must presume there are discussions with the proposers, and there are discussions with the council, but where are the discussions with the "local community"

nlondondad Tue 09-Jul-13 16:12:05

@sammisatt

Difficult to say really.

You see the setting up of a Free School is a long process with a number of subsidiary decision points. Any good civil servant will keep the Minister' s options open as long as possible, lest a change of course be needed, but which can then be argued not to be the dreaded "U turn" in fact there was a case of a Free School that did not recruit and so its opening was stopped at 3 weeks notice (it eventually opened a year later)

But bear in mind that senior officers at Islington are having meetings with the DFE about it, the Islington Lead member for education is giving public statements about it, and there has been at least one meeting involving members of the labour group where the news of the Government's prospective move did not go down well. Further Islington Schools Forum, the statutory body concerned with financing schools in Islington has been warned of the need to take account of a prospective financial loss.

However I think it may mean that it is really worth agitating about, as the decision may yet be reversed, in which case it will be claimed it had never been made anyway...

AuntieStella Wed 10-Jul-13 00:18:30

The reason there are 'excess" places is because bulge classes were created in some school (including in neighbouring boroughs). There were children with no places until those classes came on stream. Can those bulge classes be provided every year? Especially as there is new housing already underway?

Interesting document giving stats, based on FOI requests and published information from boroughs

LondonSwede Wed 10-Jul-13 14:12:51

I have not read the whole thread but I find it silly to just look at a single borough when determining the need for schools as (school) places are allocated based on distance and do not take into account what borough the pupil lives in.

So in the case of Islington, there might be an over supply of reception places. But Haringey, neighbouring Islington, struggles to satisfy the needs for reception places.

Coleridge's reception intake in 2012 had 30% living in Islington as an example (and yes, I asked for the data)!

So whilst Islington might be under subscribed, the particular area where Ashmount (new and old) and Coleridge are situated, is not.

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