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Camden's second free school opens in Belsize Park after five-year campaign

PUBLISHED: 16:12 11 September 2013 | UPDATED: 16:12 11 September 2013

Vicky Briody, headteacher of Abacus Belsize Primary School. Picture: Nigel Sutton

Vicky Briody, headteacher of Abacus Belsize Primary School. Picture: Nigel Sutton

© Nigel Sutton email pictures@nigelsuttonphotography.com

A new free school offering Mandarin lessons to four-year-olds has opened its doors in Belsize Park after a five-year campaign to create more primary places in the area.

Children aged four and five cooked soup, created artwork and got used to their new surroundings on the first day at Abacus Belsize Primary School last Thursday.

It was also a huge day for the tireless campaigners who have worked for several years to make a reality of the school, based at the Hampstead Town Hall Centre, Haverstock Hill, to tackle a chronic lack of primary places in Belsize Park.

Founder and school governor Linda Grove, of Belsize Lane, and chair of governors Jill Barnes were both present for the first day.

Retired headteacher Mrs Grove said: “Jill and I were almost in tears at the school gates this morning

“I’m feeling excited and very proud of what we have done in the community to get this school going after five years.”

Abacus is Camden’s second free school following the opening of St Luke’s Church of England School in Kidderpore Avenue, Hampstead, in September 2011.

The school will mostly follow the national curriculum, but it will also have a big emphasis on Mandarin language lessons, which children will start to learn in the coming weeks.

There will be an element of Mandarin included in classes every day, while another priority will be taking the time to teach children outdoors, rather than being cooped up in classrooms all the time.

Twenty-eight places have been filled and Mrs Grove added: “There’s one place left – Jill and I are fighting over it because we want to go back to school now.”

Mrs Barnes, a non-practising solicitor of Belsize Park Gardens, joined the campaign about three years ago when she could not find state school places for her own children.

“I became aware how acute the shortage of places was,” she says.

“When free schools came along, we saw an opportunity to address a situation that needed sorting out.”

Mrs Barnes has worked full time on the bid for the past two years, and she said: “It’s no easy job to set up a school.”

She also added that the school’s opening is by no means the end of the story. “It’s great seeing the school open, but it’s not the end game – we want to ensure we deliver on what we have committed ourselves to,” she said.

The biggest challenge still being faced is the hunt for a permanent home from September 2015 onwards. The school will only be at Hampstead Town Hall for two years.

Headteacher Vicky Briody said: “It’s just amazing to be able to be teaching in a space that is so lovely, but we don’t have enough outside space for our older children.

“We’re committed to having our permanent home in Belsize Park. It’s difficult [to find somewhere], but it’s moving forward every day.”

Another free school, the Archer Academy in East Finchley, also welcomed pupils for the first time this week.

The secondary school, based in The Institute building, off The Bishops Avenue, opened to 150 Year 7 pupils on Monday.

It marked the successful end to a two-year campaign from local parents for a co-educational, non-selective and non-denominational school for children in Hampstead Garden Suburb, Golders Green, East Finchley and Finchley Central.

The inaugural intake will be divided into six forms and will have the opportunity to stay at the school until the age of 18.

Headteacher Mick Quigley said: “It was wonderful to see our first students arriving for the first time this morning, so full of enthusiasm and ready to learn.

“Our staff have worked so hard to get everything ready and the excitement in the air was palpable.

“As we all stood together for our first ever Archer Academy photo it already felt like an established school.”

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