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Monty Python star Sir Michael Palin joins campaign to save Carlton Primary School from closure

Exclusive: Actor and broadcaster appeals for school to stay open

21 November, 2019 — By Helen Chapman

Sir Michael Palin is a long-term patron of the school

SIR Michael Palin has swung behind the campaign to save a primary school from closure.

The New Journal revealed last week that talks have taken place over the future of Carlton Primary School in Kentish Town amid falling applications across Camden.

Sir Michael, who lives nearby and has been a patron of the school for 20 years, said: “Whenever I visit Carlton I’m hugely impressed by the atmosphere. I have rarely been in a happier school. The staff have created a bright, lively, colourful environment in which the children seem to thrive.”

He added: “Bearing in mind that more than 70 per cent of them do not have English as a first language, engaging with children from so many backgrounds is a considerable achievement, and I cannot commend the head and her staff more highly for creating such a welcoming environment in such difficult circumstances.”

The Monty Python star, who was knighted this year for his contribution to travel and culture, has in the past held talks at the school with pupils about his trips abroad. Carlton dates back to 1883 and is rated a “good” school by Ofsted’s inspectors.

The option of closing the school is not a done deal and a community campaign has already developed to meet any attempt to move closer towards shutting it down.

Carlton Primary School

Schools across Camden have been affected by falling school rolls and St Aloysius School, a Catholic primary school in Somers Town, will close its doors for the final time next month. Most of its pupils have already moved to other schools after the decision to close it was made earlier this year.

Sir Michael said: “I’m aware of falling rolls, but also aware that Camden are committed to building new homes in the area. New homes will surely create more demand for school places, and to close a school with the qualifications of Carlton seems a waste of one of the borough’s more successful educational assets.”

The council has partly blamed a falling birth rate for dwindling pupil numbers, which are a crucial factor in how much money schools receive in government funding: the cash is divided up depending on how many children enrol.

The suggested root causes have been the changing cost and availability of housing, the lack of family-sized homes and warnings that too much of the accommodation in Camden is being used for Airbnb- style rentals, which can often prove more lucrative to property owners than long-term rental arrangements.

Headteacher Jacqueline Phelan is working with the governing body on possible proposals to stay open by renting out spare classrooms in the Victorian school building, which is currently at around 60 per cent capacity.

Sir Michael, who wrote to the New Journal with his concerns, said: “I’m immensely proud of my association with Carlton Primary School and most concerned about recent rumours of its closure. As a local resident, as well as patron of the school, I would urge Camden to step back from the brink and let no decision on the future of Carlton Primary School be rushed through before all the alternatives have been considered, and the expertise of the staff, the educational facilities that the school premises could provide, and the vital role Carlton occupies here in the in the heart of Gospel Oak, be duly recognised.”

Parents have vowed to not let the school close

Camden’s education chief Councillor Angela Mason referenced Carlton and other primary schools when she appeared at a planning meeting on Thursday objecting to a plan by the Abacus Belsize free school moving into the old Hampstead police station in Rosslyn Hill.

A Camden Council spokesman said: “In common with the rest of London, we are facing an unprecedented issue where we have too few children to fill our primary school places. This September the number of reception children admitted to Camden schools was down 9 per cent – 145 pupils – compared with the 2015 intake. This means that across Camden we now have around 15 per cent more primary school places than we need. In some schools the surplus is as much as 40 per cent. Our funding is based on how many places we fill, so we need to manage our school estate with this in mind.

He added “We have a duty to work with headteachers and chairs of governors to ensure that our schools are viable, financially secure and successful going into the future. We will consult with parents, governors and interested parties on any proposals that come out of these discussions. No decisions have been made yet but we want all parents and children in Camden to know that they will always have a place at a fantastic Camden primary school in their own community.”

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