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Abacus Belsize Primary School eyes plans to move onto Haverstock School site

Search to find permanent home for free school sees it consider move to Chalk Farm

20 May, 2021 — By Harry Taylor

Haverstock School, in Chalk Farm

ABACUS Belsize Primary School could move onto the Haverstock School site, according to plans being considered by Camden Council and the Anthem Academy Trust.

The school had an application to move into the old Hampstead Police Station rejected late last year, at its second attempt to move into the Grade-II listed site bought for it by the Department for Education. The free school, rated “outstanding” by Ofsted, is currently based in Camley Street but its lease is coming to an end.

In turn, the move could help the secondary school’s finances, according to a Camden Council spokesperson. It is suffering from a drop in funding due to declining pupil numbers.

It underwent a consultation earlier this year to shed jobs as part of a cost-cutting measure, and is set to reduce its intake from six forms of entry to four-and-a-half.

The school, whose alumni include the Miliband brothers and former England footballers Joe Cole and John Barnes, was the latest to reveal problems with pupil numbers. It also suffers with high costs from the private finance deal struck to rebuild the school.

Headteacher James Hadley said it had been looking at alternative ways to boost funding three years, including its reintegration base (CRIB) for pupils at risk of permanent exclusion from schools elsewhere and its special educational needs (SEN) provision that brings in “significant” income.

According to a statement from Abacus, the school is in the early stages of an agreement for space on the site in Chalk Farm. It has already identified that it would be possible to have separate classrooms, an entrance and playground area to ensure the split between the two schools.

Abacus was set up in 2013 in a bid to tackle a lack of secular primary school places in the area, dubbed “pray or pay”. It spent its initial years in the Hampstead Old Town Hall, now home to Wac Arts.

It moved in 2015 to Camley Street while it engaged in two attempts to move into the police station. The former cop shop was put on the market earlier this year by the DfE, which bought it from City Hall for £14.1m in 2014.

If an agreement is reached, the move could take place during the 2022/2023 school year.

A spokesperson for Abacus said: “Both schools would keep their separate identity and would simply be adjacent to one another on the large site, though, of course, we would hope to achieve some beneficial synergies for both schools going forward, such as shared use of sporting facilities.

“Detailed discussions are ongoing between both schools, and with the DfE and the council, to ensure that any decision to proceed is taken in the best interests of our pupils but we are hopeful that this will provide a suitable site for our school.”

James Hadley, headteacher at Haverstock School said: “It has been recently proposed that from September 2023 we lease part of our site to Abacus Belsize [one form-entry] Primary School. An initial site survey by the DfE has shown that the proposal to divide the site and to accommodate both schools is viable in building terms. Indeed there would be some surplus accommodation and Haverstock is likely to be provided with some building enhancements if the proposal is agreed.

“The governing body have agreed to additional discussions taking place between Haverstock and Abacus whilst Camden and the DfE explore the legal and financial details. The proposal offers the possibility of significant financial benefits to Haverstock, putting us on a sound and stable financial footing so that going forward our sole focus can be on the ‘Good to Great’ journey as a confident and inclusive smaller school.”

A Camden Council spokesperson said: “Following the outcome of Abacus’s planning appeal, the Department for Education approached the council to ask for help in exploring other possible options of a permanent site for the school. The council is working with the DfE, Abacus and Haverstock schools on the feasibility of this idea, which is at an early stage.

“All parties need to undertake due diligence to ensure that any change is in the best interests of all Camden children. If it were to be approved, it would provide financial support to Haverstock School, which has exceptionally high running costs from its PFI agreement, as well as reduced income due to falling student numbers.”

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