CamdenNewJournal

The independent London newspaper

Primary school numbers fall again

Fall in applications will mean less government funding

22 April, 2021 — By Harry Taylor

APPLICATIONS to Camden’s primaries have fallen for another year – a trend which will see a drop in funding for schools.

The 5 per cent fall comes amid calls for an independent review into the sustainability of schools.

Cabinet councillors voted to close Carlton Primary School, which had served generations of children in and around Queen’s Crescent, earlier this year. It will merge with nearby Rhyl Primary when the next school year starts.

Camden’s education chief Labour councillor Angela Mason said a lack of pupils had meant it was financially unviable.

St Aloysius Primary in Somers Town closed last year for similar reasons. According to the Town Hall there have been 1,948 applications for children for the next academic school year, which is 108 fewer than applied to attend primary schools last year. It has made 65 fewer offers of places to parents and carers.

As government funding is based on pupil numbers, schools will be set to lose more than £320,000.

The percentage fall in applications is less than the London-wide drop of 7 per cent and Cllr Mason insists Camden is not the only area facing the pressure. She has cited a low birth rate, while discussions over the changing nature – and cost – of the housing market has rumbled on.

At Monday’s full council meeting the ruling Labour group batted away request from the Tories for a review.

Conservative leader Cllr Oliver Cooper said: “The problem is that falling birth rates are not within the scope of education policy… We need an overarching strategy that covers school place planning, but also other areas that are desperately needed to save our schools.

“We need to find ways to ensure more families live in the borough, and that people looking to have children can afford to live locally longer term as well.”

He questioned why Camden was approving developments with many studios and one-bedroom flats, including the revamp of the Charlie Ratchford Centre, but not family-sized units.

“That’s a recipe for more school closures and should be looked at in the round,” Cllr Cooper told the meeting.

Liberal Democrat councillor Tom Simon also supported the idea of a review and said that Labour was fixed on the view that they were being attacked over the outcome at Carlton rather than the general trend of falling numbers and underlying issues.

“The reason we have a very low fertility rate in Camden is not a question of biology, it’s a question of geography and by that I mean human behaviour,” he said. “If you create a housing situation in the borough that is not welcoming to families, you are going to have fewer families.”

Labour whip Cllr Lazzaro Pietragnoli said the proposal would simply be a case of hiring a “bunch of consultants”. An area of dispute was whether Cllr Mason had previously suggested that Carlton would not be the last school to close.

The Conservatives say she did, but Cllr Mason insists her words were taken out of context and “twisted”.

During a meeting in December, Cllr Mason had said: “A lot of schools are beginning to discuss and look at the possibilities of working together. It may be having an executive head, it may be mergers.”

She added: “We are in a very serious situation where we have to look to new ways of doing things, and we are with all schools, engaged in that process. These discussions won’t be the last I’m afraid. There is likely to be other schools where this may be a solution.”

She added: “I would really pin this on very high housing costs and the difficulty of renting in the private sector due to the housing benefit cap. It’s a profound change to the borough. In many ways, Camden might be the canary in the mine and they [Carlton] are feeling the effect first. It will affect the whole of the borough.”

At Monday’s meeting, however, Cllr Mason said that changes meant no more schools should close.

A Camden spokesman said: “The council has been closely monitoring this situation, and with our schools are facing this challenge collectively with measures that will achieve a balance over the next 10 years between the number of places and the number of pupils in Camden primary schools, securing a sustainable future for our schools.

“There are spaces still available in the borough’s primary schools and we encourage any families who wish for their child to attend a school in Camden to apply.”

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