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ALEXIS ROWELL: Belsize desperately needs a primary school

PUBLISHED: 15:06 11 March 2009 | UPDATED: 16:00 07 September 2010

Parents looking for a state-funded non-faith school face a stark choice – pay, drive to the other end of Camden, pretend to be religious or move away, says ward councillor Alexis Rowell Conservative prospective parliamentary candidate Chris Philp wrote

Parents looking for a state-funded non-faith school face a stark choice - pay, drive to the other end of Camden, pretend to be religious or move away, says

ward councillor Alexis Rowell

Conservative prospective parliamentary candidate Chris Philp wrote at length about education in last week's Ham&High. But nowhere did he mention a key issue for the people he seeks to represent in Belsize - we have no community primary school, nor any nearby that our children can get in to.

We have some private primary schools if you can afford to pay and we have three faith schools just outside Belsize if you are a practising Christian or if, as many parents feel obliged to do, you pretend to be a practising Christian.

But if you want to send your child to a state-funded non-religious school anywhere near Belsize, or if you try to get them into one of three faith schools on distance criteria - well, you can just forget it. Or move.

The four nearest state-funded non-religious schools are New End (which admitted one child from Belsize on distance criteria this year), Fitzjohn's (which admitted none), Fleet (none again) and Primrose Hill (which only admitted Belsize children living south of Fellows Road).

Forty-two per cent of all primary places in Camden are in faith schools. I personally prefer the French system where religion is a private matter separated from state and schooling.

But what shocks me about our system is that faith schools are not required to publish the details of exactly how they admit children.

Community schools have to publish data on distance criteria so that parents can make rational choices about which schools they are likely to get their children into. But religious schools don't have to do this. Why?

At full council recently, I asked the Conservative executive member for schools to consider three changes:

Amend the places planning criteria so that, for example, Belsize parents are no longer offered places in schools like Brecknock which are so far away they are impossible to reach on foot, by bike or on public transport.

Publish data for religious schools showing the criteria under which children were admitted or at least the number that were admitted on distance criteria.

Increase the number of choices parents are allowed from four to six as in Westminster.

I would love to have children one day and I would love to be able to walk to school with them.

But at the moment, Belsize residents like me are facing a stark choice - pay, drive to the other end of Camden, pretend to be a practising Christian or leave Belsize.

We need a new community primary school.

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