CamdenNewJournal

The independent London newspaper

Carlton school action group to hold ballot on closure today

Campaign to stop closure continues

07 December, 2020 — By Harry Taylor

AN ACTION group of parents and carers from Carlton Primary School are holding an unofficial ballot today (Monday) on whether the school should close and be merged with nearby Rhyl primary – as a report on consultation responses has been published.

Camden Council has refused to back the poll, as one parent last week told the New Journal that they felt “voiceless” over the plans to shut the 137-year-old school in Grafton Road.

The Town Hall has cited falling school rolls and a low birth rate in the borough as the reason for the proposed closure. The new merged school would be two-form entry from September 2021.

A report on the findings from the first stage of the consultation, published on Friday, found that a slight majority, 54 per cent, support the closure and merger. Yet only 19 of the survey’s 83 respondents were parents. The majority, 55, were school staff, governors, councillors and local residents. There are concerns about a lack of responses from the school and community’s BAME population.

According to the plans set to go before cabinet on December 16, early years services would be based at the Carlton site, whereas Year 2 to 6 would be taught in Rhyl Street. The Grafton Road campus would remain in use for the community, and families. Both the council’s plans and the action group’s involve early years, family, youth and community services at the site. However the dividing line between the two parties is whether this can be done by keeping Carlton open.

In the report that will be presented to the council’s top table next week, the Baitul Aman Masjid mosque in Weedington Road called the consultation flawed and said it lacked any meaningful engagement with its Muslim community and BAME groups. It said members of its community did not have internet access and that many did not have English as a first language, which limited their ability to respond.

Despite an Ofsted inspection in 2015 finding that “most pupils [were] from minority ethnic backgrounds,” with nearly a third of pupils are of Bangladeshi origin, 68 per cent of people who responded to the consultation identified as being from a white background.

The response by the mosque said: “Many of our community are not familiar or happy with Zoom and Microsoft Teams meeting formats. There has been virtually no meaningful engagement from senior councillors or officers with our community. More time is needed for aural discussion and translation.”

Ballots will be distributed at school gates this afternoon. The poll will close on Wednesday, with results expected by lunchtime on the same day.

Mick Farrant, a member of the action group said: “We have learnt that less than 20 parents and carers have responded to the consultation and have completed the questionnaire. We don’t feel that this is a significant enough number and it is unclear whether these parents are from Carlton School. We think it is important to get a broader view from Carlton parents.”

There are still concerns about how the council has costed the move, with the town hall refusing to release details – despite education chief Angela Mason promising an “open book” on it.

In response, the council has said it translated the consultation materials into three languages and held 20 face-to-face meetings, and four online sessions – with translation services.

In a letter to Mr Farrant on Monday morning, Angela Mason said the council would not be support a ballot. “We are satisfied that our level of engagement met or surpassed the requirements outlined within [Department for Education] documents. A ballot does not form part of any of the statutory guidance,” she said.

The heads of both Carlton and Rhyl schools, said in a joint statement: “Both schools are committed to ensuring this is maintained for the future, but recognise the huge challenge of falling pupil numbers in central London, in particular Camden and at Carlton, resulting in the proposal to close Carlton as a legal entity and merge with Rhyl.

“If the proposal is approved, all children currently attending Rhyl and Carlton would be able to continue to receive an excellent education in a local community school.”

Leader of the opposition on Camden Council, Cllr Oliver Cooper said: “It is not the job of parents to consult the community properly – it’s the job of the council, and they’ve simply refused to do it. By voting this week, Carlton parents and carers can show they reject Camden’s phoney consultation and force it to go back to the community to ask for permission. Labour must listen to Camden’s communities, not just talk at them.

“If Camden is serious about not wanting to close Carlton, it should ensure Carlton parents’ alternative scheme is given proper consideration and treated as an equally valid proposal. That means working with them and disclosing full financial details, as was promised in September but which Camden now refuses to do. What does it have to hide?”

A Camden Council spokesperson said the seven-week consultation on closing the school had been “comprehensive”.

They added: “The council has received detailed comments which reflect the varied views that have been expressed throughout the consultation process and which have meant that the council has been able to refine and add detail to its proposals.”

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