Carlton parents’ poll says: Save Our School
Council to make crucial decision on future of Carlton Primary School
10 December, 2020 — By Harry Taylor
PARENTS have said there is no mandate for closing down a primary school after voting overwhelmingly in favour of keeping it open.
Angered by the lack of an official ballot on the future of Carlton Primary School, near Queen’s Crescent, an action group set up their own school gates poll over three days this week and found strong opposition to council plans among the 120 people who took part.
Cabinet councillors are due to make a decision next week on closing the 137-year-old school and merging it with nearby Rhyl – a move which has been blamed on falling rolls.
In the Town Hall’s own official consultation, which ran from late September to the middle of November, 84 people responded – only 19 of which were parents or carers at the school in Grafton Road.
This has led to questions over whether Camden can legitimately say it has enough support to press ahead. The action group trying to save the school has put forward an alternative plan which would involve keeping Carlton open as a smaller school but bringing other services into its Victorian building.
Of those who took part in the ballot this week, 116 opposed the closure, and 109 said a decision should be delayed for another year to allow more consultation.
Shoda Rackal, one of the parents behind the ballot, said: “It’s a true result of the strength of feeling of how parents and carers feel about this whole situation. They have had an opportunity to write down that they don’t think this is a good idea, and they want the school to remain open. The council should pay 100 per cent attention to what parents are asking for and what the community is crying out for.”
A vote in the unofficial ballot this week
There has been further criticism of the council’s attempts to engage with parents and the community.
According to its own report 68 per cent of people who responded to the consultation were from a white background. But the school’s last full Ofsted report found “most pupils [were] from minority ethnic backgrounds”, with nearly a third of pupils of Bangladeshi origin.
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 (black, Asian and minority ethnic) groups.
It said some members of its community did not have internet access and that many did not speak English as a first language, which limited their ability to respond.
“Many of our community are not familiar or happy with Zoom and Microsoft Teams meeting formats,” its response said.
If the Town Hall cabinet moves forward with the plans next week, the changes could come into force from next September.
Schools chief Angela Mason
Parents at the school gates this week said they had not responded to the council’s consultation as it had been poorly publicised, and the timings of the early evening virtual meetings clashed with feeding children, bathing them and putting them to bed.
Filling out his ballot on Monday, Husham Elnour, whose six-year-old attends the school, said: “I don’t know why they are closing a great school like this. I can’t find the reason.” Camden has said it has been forced to take action by falling birth rates.
Oliver Cooper, leader of the Conservatives on Camden Council, said: “This crushing opposition to the council’s plans is not surprising and confirms everything that parents have been saying for the last year. “Camden’s leader claimed that those of us that opposed Carlton’s closure hadn’t spoken to parents, but it’s the people that want to close the school that clearly haven’t listened to the community. “In two days, six times as many parents voted in this ballot as responded to the council’s phoney consultation.”
A statement from the school’s governors said: “Over the past year we have championed the views of all of our parents and families to ensure that their voices are being heard. Throughout this challenging time we will continue to place them and our children at the heart of everything that we do.”
Camden Council’s education chief, Labour councillor Angela Mason, said that unless action was taken, primary schools in the borough risked becoming unviable, leading to further closures due to per-pupil funding. She said the council’s seven-week consultation had been “comprehensive” and had included online, face-to-face sessions and virtual meetings.