Editorial comment: Could Abacus decision be counter-productive?
PUBLISHED: 08:30 07 November 2019
It's hard to believe that the saga around Abacus Belsize Primary School and the former Hampstead police station might finally be coming to an end.
The debate over it goes back more than five years to 2013. A world where a referendum was a policy to be negotiated away rather than a reality, Arsenal were in the Champions League and Donald Trump was an egregious tweeter. Well some things haven't changed.
The debate since has been bad tempered at times. On the one hand is the education of children in Belsize who years ago wouldn't have been able to get into a local school, and on the other, the concerns of state schools that they could ultimately end up closing and the effect 210 pupils will have on the area.
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The genie is out of the bottle. As soon as Abacus Belsize was founded, this crunch point was always going to happen. The school provides an outstanding education to pupils and its parents are now passionate advocates of it.
But the devil is in the detail. As a school it's unusual if not unique that a family living yards away from it wouldn't be able to get their child into the school due to the catchment area. State schools in Hampstead are rightly worried about their futures and while the school is earnest in their conviction that it will have a "walk to school" policy, this is broadly unenforceable. If it's broken, or if new parents come along without the buy in to the ethos, how can it be enforced? As somewhere as regularly busy as Rosslyn Hill the concerns of locals about an increase in traffic are fair.
Whatever happens next week, it's guaranteed that one side will be bitterly unhappy. But the world has changed since 2013 and to make a decision based on it then would be unfair. There is a huge amount of empty spaces in existing schools in Hampstead, and another in the area will only worsen it.
Other locations have been looked at before, and the Department for Education needs to do so again, before it's too late.