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School to be shut down as row over whether parents had a proper say goes on

Second stage of consultation sees 32 people respond, as council defends engagement

22 March, 2021 — By Harry Taylor

Campaigners to save Carlton Primary School host a street stall in Kentish Town Road last year

THE closure of Carlton Primary School is likely to be confirmed on Wednesday but the Town Hall is still facing questions over how well families were consulted.

The school in Grafton Road, which has served generations of children in Queen’s Crescent and dates back to 1884, will be merged with Rhyl Primary.

The combined school will be split across both sites, with some new community provision being introduced from January.

The move was hastened by falling school rolls, caused in part by a low birth rate in Camden. Carlton’s reception class had 68 per cent of its places left unfilled in September, although campaigners blamed this on the looming and well-publicised threat of closure.

Last week, schools chief Labour councillor Angela Mason, and the council officer behind the plans, Nick Smith, defended the consultations. One criticism has been that only two people from a black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) background responded during the first round, despite 61 per cent of pupils being BAME.

Cllr Mason said: “I do think parents have been properly consulted. In the last round of consultation we took advice from experts on how we could improve consultation. Text messages were used, the school sent letters to every parent with translations available. In the circumstances we consulted parents as widely as we could.”

Calls for a delay in the decision because of the Covid pandemic were rejected, despite a concern that many parents did not have access to digital devices.

Part of the first stage of consultation and all of the second stage was conducted virtually during the latest lockdown. An illustration of the difficulties faced by some families was revealed when Camden Council raised £62,000 in a fundraiser last year to pay for devices for disadvantaged pupils’ remote learning – an attempt to bridge what has been described as a “digital divide”.

Only 32 people responded to the second round of consultation earlier this year – none backing the council’s plans.

“I think it wasn’t as easy as it would have been if we hadn’t have been in the middle of the pandemic due to Covid,” said Cllr Mason. “[Language] possibly is a factor, access to digital access is possibly a factor.”

Rhyl Primary School in Rhyl Street

But she added: “The expression of discontent with the proposals, although it had a lot of air time, didn’t reflect all the views of the community and of parents at Carlton School.

“The number of responses we’ve had in comparison to St Aloysius were comparatively few, and that says something about communication in this community, but I don’t think it suggests that there hasn’t been engagement and quite genuine consultation.”

St Aloysius Primary School in Somers Town also closed after struggling to fill places. “I have been trying to have conversations with [Carlton] parents right from the off,” Cllr Mason said. “A number of parent meetings were organised which were moving and we really did take notice, and realised ‘we can’t just close it’ and we had to find a better way. We responded to the concerns that were had.”

Some Carlton staff will lose their jobs as part of the plans. Council officer Mr Smith told the New Journal that more information would be given “as soon as possible” after the likely approval at a cabinet meeting on Wednesday.

Campaigners and opposition councillors have criticised the Town Hall for not providing an “open book” on the finances behind the move.

They put together an alternative proposal which would have kept Carlton open as a one-form entry school, but said they were hampered in their attempts to get all the information needed on costs. Cllr Mason said: “I don’t know quite what they wanted. We were open to answer any questions that we were asked. We weren’t trying to hide anything.”

A group to help shape services at the school, including a Sure Start centre, has been set up and led by Peter Ptashko – already a governor at both Carlton and Rhyl – and Rhyl parent Katie Oliver.

Mr Ptashko said it would be a “grassroots” group, to help shape provision but that members would only be able to join by invitation. According to the proposals, Carlton has the highest proportion of special educational needs (SEN) pupils in the borough, and parents have voiced concerns about the impact a school move might have on their children.

In response, Cllr Mason said Rhyl was “one of [Camden’s] most skilled and high performing schools in relation to children with SEN”, adding: “We’re confident in Rhyl’s ability to teach those children with such needs. I think that, in a sense, parents can rest assured that their children will get the best teaching that we have available.”

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