CamdenNewJournal

The independent London newspaper

Parent campaigners unhappy with schools merger shake-up

Fears that Carlton and Rhyl scheme would lead to loss of experienced staff

24 April, 2020 — By Helen Chapman

Carlton Primary School

PARENTS campaigning to save a primary school from closure fear experienced staff will be lost if a merger plan goes ahead.

Proposals drawn up at the Town Hall involve closing Carlton primary school, near Queen’s Crescent, in September 2021 and moving children to nearby Rhyl. The New Journal revealed last autumn how discussions had opened over the future of the school due to a falling number of pupils.

The council say there will be a chance for staff to apply for jobs at Rhyl but it is not clear what will happen to the Carlton teachers if the switch goes ahead.

Sophie Docherty-Breen, who has three children at the school, said: “My daughter suffers chronic pain and Carlton has been amazing for her. Everyone at Carlton knows her and cares for her needs. I worry it would be difficult for her to adjust and to go through all of that explaining again.”

Nick Bethune, an ex-parent governor at Carlton, said: “Jacquie [Phelan, Carlton’s headteacher] and her deputies have made a huge difference to so many families over the years. I fear that will be lost – it’s the relationships they have with individual families that could be lost and have a serious impact on their well-being.” “I don’t think that will be a concern that will be addressed with the proposal of Rhyl on the table. A restructure of management of two schools would probably mean personnel will change.”

The council insists a decision has yet to be made and a consultation survey is due to take place. A schedule for this has not been finalised due to the coronavirus outbreak. Parent Monika Rego said: “It seems a really poor suggestion after five months of work. There are concerns for the children who do need extra care and are happy with Carlton. The staff at Carlton are experienced and some have been at Carlton for several decades.”

Parents fighting the proposals have suggested the extra space at Carlton caused by fewer pupils could be used to provide provision for nursery-aged children, while keeping the primary school on site.

Mr Bethune, whose daughter is now in secondary school, said: “The fact that this proposal seems to involve retaining the building for education purposes is a positive. “It is a resource Camden would be very foolish to give up. It is so difficult to know what the demand for school places will be in any immediate to long-term time frame.”

Ms Docherty-Breen added: “Carlton has a swimming pool – two of my children learnt to swim by going there. There’s lots of things that go on there that people don’t even know about.” Alternative ideas to keep Carlton in its Victorian building include adding an adult learners centre, supporting children making the transition from primary to secondary school, and providing a victim support service for families affected by crime.

Elsewhere, St Michael’s primary school could merge with Our Lady’s in Camden Town as part of council plans to deal with the boroughwide pupil shortage. Argyle, Netley and St Dominic’s schools, meanwhile, may reduce capacity by 15 places each.

Education chief Labour councillor Angela Mason said: “Births in our borough have fallen by almost 20 per cent from 2012 which, along with other changes, means that some of our schools have high numbers of unfilled places, creating significant funding challenges for them.”

She added: “We have listened carefully to the school, its staff, parents and the community who have all stressed the importance of the school, and its location at the heart of Gospel Oak and, as a result, the council and Rhyl primary school are committed to the continuation of education on the Carlton site and its development for new community provision.”

In a joint statement, Ms Phelan, and Helen Connor, headteacher at Rhyl said: “Camden does not believe that it can sustain Carlton as a one-form entry. However, they recognise the impact of Carlton in the local community. “We are pleased Camden are now proposing to utilise both sites to develop a new and innovative approach to the delivery of educational and community services working together.” “Camden will be consulting on the way forward for the schools and community through a public consultation, and both Rhyl and Carlton staff will be playing an active role in the consultation process.”

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