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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.

muminlondon Mon 01-Jul-13 01:09:23

I'm against for-profit providers having control over state-funded schools because I don't trust their motives. I don't mind their services being used to improve LA-accountable schools.

If there was consultation about what the council was going to do with the land, it should be respected. I do not understand how land can be transferred without compensation from the council to an academy trust on a 125-year lease when - apparently - it should be possible to sack a school provider/sponsor after 7 years. Unless it's 100% certain that an extra school is needed and the trust was clearly independent of the sponsor/provider. Anyway, if the council disagrees the DfE should publish the business case and any impact assessment. Like they had to do here but before the school signs a funding agreement not two years later.

RussiansOnTheSpree Mon 01-Jul-13 10:12:56

Having read up a bit more about this, it seems utterly outrageous. Basically, it's theft. sad

nlondondad Mon 01-Jul-13 19:03:49

re your comment regarding "theft"

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.

scaevola Mon 01-Jul-13 19:21:19

There is a school place shortage in certain age groups in London - mainly in primary, and going to be hitting secondary soon. Keeping a school as a school sounds like common sense.

Ownership of land won't be handed over no-strings:there are checks and balances in the underpinning agreements, which mean that if the site ceases to be used for a maintained school, it must be handed back. There is no way the educational chain can sell it off. Nor are they (currently) permitted to make a profit from running a maintained school (and abuses by third party providers have come to light a heck of a lot quicker than Council fraud). Though it's a good thing they are profitable elsewhere, isn't it? Under the current model for new schools, surely the best option is for an experienced and successful provider.

scaevola Mon 01-Jul-13 19:37:49

And it was imprudent to set a deficit budget based on proceeds from this site, as there was no certainty it would be available for sale (owing to the purported architectural significance of the building, and the possibility (known since at least 2009) that demolition might not be permitted).

RussiansOnTheSpree Mon 01-Jul-13 19:49:16

nlondon Exactly. It might be legal but its not ethical.

nlondondad Mon 01-Jul-13 22:33:51


you wrote:

"Ownership of land won't be handed over no-strings:there are checks and balances in the underpinning agreements, which mean that if the site ceases to be used for a maintained school, it must be handed back. "

The position, as of now, is that if the site ceases to be used for a Free School it is handed back but not to the council but to the secretary of state, who could then choose to give himself permission to sell it off. Does not feel like a complete safeguard to me, and the loss to the council tax payers of Islington, would remain, although seisure by the Government is probably on balance, to be preferred to transfer to private hands.

Now look at this story in the independent

You will note in particular the para

"In a further radical measure aimed at boosting the economic attraction of academies, the Education Secretary is also examining proposals for academy schools who control large sites to be able to sell off or sub-let former council-owned land"

Controlling a large site is exactly the position Bellevue Ltd will be in.

scaevola Mon 01-Jul-13 23:02:14

Until (unless) that comes in, they can't do it.

But with the shortfall on London school places etinated to reach 90,000 and the expense of land in London, what are the chances of a school site being granted change of use? A Council can easily stymie a potential sale by pointing out that change of use won't be granted as school places are needed.

Though I note Islington speaks with forked tongue about this - as their education chief can both state that Islington has enough places (when talking about this school) and that there's an impending London-wide crisis (when interviewed by the Guardian).

muminlondon Mon 01-Jul-13 23:49:05

That Independent article is really worrying. But I'm curious about the reference to for-profit company GEMS being attracted to the market - and whether that would be desirable.

GEMS was recently announced as Wokingham Council's choice of provider for a new primary academy although little info was given on how that decision was made. But the Secretary of State has instead decided that a trust formed by a successful converter academy should run the school.

GEMS had also put forward proposals for free school primaries in London and secondaries in Reading and Marylebone but all proposals were rejected. Parents commented that the Reading bid seemed rushed.

The company had begun talks back in 2005 to be an academy sponsor but pulled out after bad publicity over its management of one of its UK fee-paying schools.

The Independent quotes 'the chief executive of a leading academies trust'. Lord Nash and Theodore Agnew are respectively minister and non-executive board member who themselves are trustees of academy chains. I'm not suggesting either of them gave the quotes. However, it highlights a conflict of interest if profit-making were allowed by those running the DfE and who might also stand to gain.

nlondondad Tue 02-Jul-13 00:20:13


Islington's case is that although there is a shortage of places in London overall, a city with a population of 8 million, there is no shortage of places in Islington, with as I write still a surplus of places at reception, that is more reception places than applicants through out the Borough.

In the case of the area around the old Ashmount site everyone this year has had the choice of (been in the catchment for) at least two schools...

scaevola Tue 02-Jul-13 07:35:22

Then why does Islington's education chief give such interviews about his worries about shortfall?

And why are there reception children still without a place (remember London applications don't fall tidily within boroughs - Islington schools are full, and children living less than one mile from them don't have places, but must be OK for Islingtonites as they're in Hackney) And this site is very close to the Hackney border.

But at least if Islington has no shortfall, they will not be bidding for the Govt new money for more places. oh - hang on a moment....

See many threads on MN about "why didn't councils foresee the shortfall and do something about it?". Taking a school building out of school use is the height of insanity at present.

GreenEggsAndNaiceHam Tue 02-Jul-13 13:17:41

Islington schools aren't full at reception. There are still places on the west side of the Borough, near to Camden.

I am always really wary about children being without places at reception. I know a few people saying this and it is only true for them as they have turned down places at non desirable schools.

I am confused, I wouldn't call Ashmount close to the Hackeny border. Haringay and Camden, but not Hackney.

scaevola Tue 02-Jul-13 13:48:21

Maybe I got my boroughs in a twist.

But if Islington is sure that it has enough school places, and is doing enough as a good partner in the London-wide effort to tackle the huge projected shortfall (I take it that you don't class the DfE figures, those of NAO (higher) or those of the boroughs themselves as parental anecdote), then I hope it drops bids for funding for new places and removes its education chief from the pan-London campaign to provide those thousands of places.

GreenEggsAndNaiceHam Tue 02-Jul-13 14:56:23

Does anyone have links to somewhere I can see the shortfall per borough? Is it on the D of E ( can neber remember if its d of E or D for E)

Camden's website is very difficult to negotiate and is rarely updated.

scaevola Tue 02-Jul-13 15:27:19

Not by borough, but as borough boundaries aren't relevant under the Admissions Code it's a bit questionable to be rigid/insular about it (though it seems from posts above that Islington wants to be).

This NAO report makes sobering reading. The number of new places needed for 14/15 is 260,000 for primary and 64,000 for secondary, a third of which will be needed in London. And of course the already rising demand for secondary will continue to rise to match the numbers in the current primary bulge over future years.

Farewelltoarms Tue 02-Jul-13 15:56:29

Hello Scarevola just to clarify an earlier point you made about 'taking a school building out of school use is the height of insanity at present'. That's not strictly true, Ashmount school has moved, lock stock and barrel, to a purpose built building. Therefore if the old site becomes a school, there's a net gain of one school building.

nlondondad Tue 02-Jul-13 16:29:07

And indeed, Farewelltoarms the distance between the two sites is only ten minutes walk. This means that if the new Free School is set up it will ADD an additional 60 places at reception to the area. As things stand there are no "blackholes". Everyone this year living in the old admission radius of the school as it was last year, calculated from the old site, had a choice of at least two schools. To the east of the site, Ashmount and Coleridge, to the North, Highgate Primary, to the West, Hargrave Park, to the south Duncombe...

So had the school been opening this year there would have been 60 surplus places, but how distributed who can say.

nlondondad Tue 02-Jul-13 16:36:08


I would be interested to read the Guardian interview with the "education Chief" at Islington as no amount of googling by me can find it. Could you have got your boroughs confused? Do you mean a political "chief" or an officer?

But in any case there would be no contradiction between saying that there is a shortage of places, in London, overall, but no shortage in this particular bit of Islington. Its not just having the places, its having them in the RIGHT place that matters. So having a surplus in North Islington would not help people, in say, Lewisham.

scaevola Tue 02-Jul-13 16:41:38

I know. Ashmount has moved. There is a spare building. London is facing a school place shortage. Which will be cheaper/easier - use/renovate an existing site, or buy/build new? Or do nothing?

If Islington knows that it already has sufficient school places to meet the rise in demand, both for its own residents and as part of the London plan generally, then of course doing nothing is a valid option. But in that case, it needs to make sure it is taking nothing from the pot of new money for new school places. And stops being the public face of the campaign for new money for that because posters here are saying Islington is not part of the London crisis.

RussiansOnTheSpree Tue 02-Jul-13 17:23:20

We already know that renovating the Ashmount building was impractical and a bad use of money. There is, as nlondon says, no benefit whatsoever to parents in eg Croydon from having an oversupply of schools in Islington.

TheNewBrown Tue 02-Jul-13 23:03:48


I am not sure where your information comes from concerning "black holes". I live near the old Ashmount site and using last year's shortest distances I would not have been offered a place at any of the other schools you mention. Now Ashmount has moved and its shortest distance has reduced drastically it is unlikely I would be offered a place there either. I don't understand what "choice of 2 schools" this would give me if my child was starting school this year rather than next.

nlondondad Tue 02-Jul-13 23:35:32


Ideally I need more information as to where you are. However if you were to the East of the new site this year you would have had either Coleridge or Ashmount. To the West of the old site you would have had Hargrave Park. You would also, a reminder of how things do vary from year to year, have had Rokesly School in Crouch End. That used to be a school some people went to from the area, but has not been available for some years, but this year it was.

Thats why I said a choice of two schools.

However do I take it your child is starting next year?

Perhaps I should say that I live only a hundred meters or so away from the old Ashmount site, hence the local knowledge.

You may find this other thread worth reading through

and as you are local the Whitehall Park residents association has a web site worth looking at.

scaevola Wed 03-Jul-13 06:53:05

The renovation of the school site is possible - the proposed new free school intends to use it.

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

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.

Where in earth do you get the idea that the school place shortage would be in south London only?

nlondondad Wed 03-Jul-13 10:37:34

@scaevola you raise a number of issues which I will deal with one by one, subject to interruption.

You write:

"The renovation of the school site is possible"

Yes indeed it is possible, any renovation is possible if you write a big enough cheque.

(Do you ever watch "Grand Designs" on channel four? People have restored ruinous castles before now.)

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