CamdenNewJournal

The independent London newspaper

Open up the books! Call to see the figures behind school closure plan

137-year-old Carlton School is due to shut in merger plan

02 October, 2020 — By Richard Osley

Conservative councillor Oliver Cooper says more details are needed about the finances of Carlton School

COUNCIL chiefs have been challenged to “open the books” on the financial challenges behind the closure of a 137-year-old primary school.

The Town Hall opened a consultation survey on plans to merge Carlton School with nearby Rhyl School in response to falling numbers in application.

The borough’s declining birth rate was first revealed by the New Journal last year and, alongside a shortage of affordable family homes, has been blamed for schools struggling to fill their classrooms.

Funding from government is hinged on how many children are being taught at individual schools, meaning any slide in pupil numbers can be costly.

But the opposition Conservative group in Camden say it is impossible for opponents to the merger to properly consider the council’s plans without knowing the financial figures.

Earlier in the summer, education chief Labour Councillor Angela Mason had appeared to agree to an “open book” process, answering a question at a cabinet meeting by saying “we certainly will provide all of the information we have”.

A group of carers and parents have suggested the merger should be stopped and the Victorian building used for a one-form entry Carlton School with shared nursery provision.

Conservative leader Councillor Oliver Cooper said: “We have some of the most engaged and engaging parents anywhere in the country. Residents that have set up schools, businesses, charities, and much more. If you give them the ability to scrutinise the books, they will come up with the goods.”

He added: “By not being transparent and not presenting all the information, it’s impossible to say that Camden has really left no stone unturned. That is a huge disservice to pupils and parents.”

Both Carlton and Rhyl are currently operating at around 60 per cent capacity. Under the plans, Carlton would close next year.

But Cllr Cooper said: “I praised the cabinet member for her pledge of transparency, but that praise looks misplaced. “This bare-bones consultation gives no information that we didn’t already have, and so no opportunity to change Camden’s mind.  There’s a word for that: a sham.”

He added: “An open, transparent, and fair consultation is a chance to hear where the plans could be better and provide alternatives. That’s not a threat, but a golden opportunity to save Carlton: an opportunity now missed.”

Schools chief Councillor Angela Mason

Cllr Mason said: “Our priority is to ensure primary schools in Camden are fit for the future, so we have now started a full public consultation to determine the future of Carlton and Rhyl primary schools. The consultation document includes details of the significant drop in both school funding and the demand for primary school places.

“It outlines the many challenges schools face as a result of this. We are committed to having an open consultation, of which the document forms part.”

She added: “We want to encourage as many people as possible to respond to our consultation, attend arranged events, and for anyone to write in with additional questions they may have, or requests for information that the council will respond to as appropriate.” St Aloysius School in Somers Town became the first primary school to close in Camden last year.

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