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Henrietta Barnett School expansion: Angry scenes at meeting for neighbours of Hampstead Garden Suburb girls’ grammar

PUBLISHED: 15:07 16 July 2018 | UPDATED: 16:22 16 July 2018

Questions from the floor at the Henrietta Barnett School's expansion meeting on Thursday. Picture: Polly Hancock

Questions from the floor at the Henrietta Barnett School's expansion meeting on Thursday. Picture: Polly Hancock

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People in Hampstead Garden Suburb are up in arms about the proposed expansion of the historic Henrietta Barnett School – six years after the last one.

Richard Paynter, partner architect at Barker Associates; Del Cooke, headteacher at the Henrietta Barnett School; and Peter Cosmetatos, vice chair of governors at the school. Picture: Polly HancockRichard Paynter, partner architect at Barker Associates; Del Cooke, headteacher at the Henrietta Barnett School; and Peter Cosmetatos, vice chair of governors at the school. Picture: Polly Hancock

Govenors from the “super-selective” all-girls grammar have decided to submit an application to the Department for Education’s “selective schools expansion fund”.

The school held a public consultation on Thursday last week, which was well-attended and characterised by fiery outbursts from people opposed to the application.

One woman who lives locally told the Ham&High: “We are very angry – they are running away from themselves with their league table ideas and it’s not what Henrietta Barnett wanted it to be.”

Headteacher Del Cooke stressed the feasibility study was in the “exploratory stage” but added proposals could tackle the school’s funding problems while also offering more places to disadvantaged students.

“We actually love the school the size it is,” she said, “but we have had increasing costs that have not been matched by increasing funding.

“We are very much up for giving more opportunities to disadvantaged candidates and we are very keen to increase our collaboration with local schools.”

Ms Cooke also apologized for the speedy consultation, which ends tomorrow, and said the school was bound by DfE deadlines.

But attendees were far from convinced, with some complaining the plans would cause further congestion on roads and create more competition for parking places.

Del Cooke, headteacher at the Henrietta Barnett School, at Thursday's meeting. Picture: Polly HancockDel Cooke, headteacher at the Henrietta Barnett School, at Thursday's meeting. Picture: Polly Hancock

“There is a huge amount of congestion in the North Way and the surrounding areas – it heaps a horrible amount of pressure on local roads,” said one man.

People also argued building work would cause noise pollution and make the school and surrounding area less aesthetically pleasing.

The academy is Grade II-listed and was designed by the esteemed English architect Sir Edwin Lutyens – something that has made its development very controversial.

Some people are still in open dissent against the last two constructions that were designed by Hopkins Architects and completed in 2012.

These were the first new builds in 60 years and 17 redevelopment proposals were blocked before them.

“You did not listen to us last time,” one woman told the panel at last week’s meeting. “I don’t know anybody who lives around here who wanted those hideous things built.”

But Richard Painter, an architect drawing up designs for the possible expansion, tried to calm the seething crowd, who shouted things like “unseemly”.

Mr Painter said: “We are looking at this project broadly and doing it in the most transparent and consultative manner possible.

“The original architecture is spectacular and we are fully respectful of that.

“We expect there will be a broad range of reactions and some will be less favourable than others.”

At one point the crowd got so animated that Peter Cosmetatos, vice chair of governors, said: “We can end this meeting right now if it is going to degenerate.”

Mr Cosmestatos was then asked whether the results of the online consultation would be published, but he wasn’t heard to give an answer.

When pressed by an audience member about how many students live in Barnet, Ms Cooke replied 31 per cent. She was then asked the follow up question: “How many of the girls live in the Suburb?” The answer was about 2pc, which drew shouts of “shame” from the crowd.

Ms Cooke said: “Grammar schools do not have a catchment area. You could have a comprehensive school here but you do not and this is a political thing.”

Speaking after the event, another woman who lives locally said: “The woman who founded the school was a philanthropist who believed in social mobility. Henrietta Barnett would be turning in her grave if she could see what happened here.” She argued the lack of a catchment area was turning Henrietta Barnett into a “super elitist” school.

And another added: “Children from all over the country apply and local girls are not getting in because they are competing with the super elite.

“This is a black spot, so I’m not in the catchment area for any schools.”

She also claimed the local primary schools, Garden Suburb and Brookland, were not initially consulted about the proposal.

If approved, the plans would see the secondary school enlarged to a five-form entry by 2020 and would also increase the size of the sixth form.

The school has 774 pupils but these plans would expand it to 1,050 students.

To accomodate for the 271 extras, the school proposes to build two new science labs, one extra design and technology classroom, more toilets and a canteen extension.

What do you think? E-mail letters@hamhigh.co.uk

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