Camden teachers accuse council of ‘hidden agenda’ behind controversial school merger

Brenda Smith and Tensaye Mehdaoua have spoken out about the controversial merger of Torriano Infants

Brenda Smith and Tensaye Mehdaoua have spoken out about the controversial merger of Torriano Infants School. Picture: Polly Hancock - Credit: Archant

Two Camden teachers have claimed the council deliberately allowed an infant school to deteriorate so it could push through a controversial merger with the junior school next door.

Camden Council admitted it knew of problems at Torriano Infant School in Torriano Avenue, Kentish Town after several teachers lodged formal complaints.

Despite this, former infants’ school teachers Brenda Smith and Tensaye Mehdaaua allege that the council took no action to help improve the school before it received a poor Ofsted rating in 2014, just five years after receiving the top rating.

The council has justified merging the school with Torriano Junior School, currently rated as ‘‘outstanding’’, from September because of a supposed slip in its quality.

The merger, which has outraged some staff and parents, will also save £45,000, but that money will be spent on education in the borough.

The authority has fought back against the allegations, insisting that it is not motivated by finances and that it would not let a school’s standards slip deliberately.

Mrs Smith, of Camden Town, taught at the infants school for 22 years but left in 2013 after lodging a staff grievance with the council.

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“Camden knew the school was going downhill and wanted it to run down,” the 58-year-old said. “It was all about money. To go from outstanding to not even good, that’s a real kick in the teeth.” Former teaching assistant Ms Mehdaaua, 50, of Kentish Town, added: “Camden had a hidden agenda.”

The council denied ignoring pleas from staff to help improve the school, and said it worked with school leaders before the Ofsted inspection in February 2014. It claims the merger was proposed because the infants school failed to improve quickly enough after it was rated as “requires improvement”.

But in a letter sent to parents in October last year, former chairman of governors Nneka Onyesoh-Rhima said the school had been told by the council that it had made progress.

A council report following a review of the school is quoted in the letter, and states: “The school’s self-evaluation states that the school is getting to ‘good’ and this is clearly the case.”

Cllr Angela Mason, cabinet member for children, said: “These allegations are completely untrue. It is not in the council’s interests to allow a school’s standards to slip – we have the duty of care and responsibility for the education of those children and are accountable to government for the standards of our schools.

“It has been crucial that we support the school’s governing body to take steps to improve leadership and standards of education at the school and ensure it can remain as one of the Camden family of schools. The proposed merger is entirely about improving the quality of education for children.”