Camden Council plan for closure of Carlton Primary and merger with Rhyl Primary as part of sweeping school changes

Michael Palin joined students and Jenny Hindson, Edible Playground co-ordinator for Trees For Cities

Michael Palin joined students and Jenny Hindson, Edible Playground co-ordinator for Trees For Cities, as he opened the learning garden at Carlton Primary School in 2015. Picture: Polly Hancock - Credit: Archant

Carlton primary school is set to be closed and merged with Rhyl primary as part of sweeping new plans by Camden Council to address falling numbers of pupils in the borough’s school system.

The mooted plans have been hotly contested over the last year, with Carlton parents urging the council’s full council meeting in January to keep it open. The decision had been due to be made in early April, but was delayed by the coronavirus pandemic.

Under proposals due to go before the council’s cabinet for approval early next month, the two schools will merge.

Other changes proposed to tackle declining pupil numbers include the merger of Our Lady’s and St Michael’s primary schools in Camden Town, and the closure of St Michael’s in Camden Street.

The number of places will be reduced at St Dominics Catholic Primary School in Southampton Road, Netley Primary School in Stanhope Street and Argyle Primary School in Tonbridge Street. All of which had vacancies last year, with St Dominic’s being worst hit, with 40% surplus places.

A public consultation will open in late September on the £700,000 plans if the recommendations are backed by the council’s cabinet on September 3. The meeting will take place a day after Carlton teachers return to the school for inset days ahead of the new school year.

According to council papers, the school buildings would be kept for continued education and community use.

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With the backdrop of falling rolls, the town hall has proposed a reduction of 135 primary school places. The papers set to go before two council committees next month say that Camden has suffered a “dramatic fall in birth rates which means that there are now fewer children requiring school places” and one of the lowest fertility rates in the UK.

In October 2019 there were 230 pupils in reception to year 6 at Carlton, which has a capacity of 420 places. Nearby Rhyl had 328 pupils on roll, with the same capacity as Carlton. The changes would come into effect in September 2021.

Across Camden’s September 2019 reception intake, there were 119 unfilled places which, according to council projections, could reach 148 places by 2028/2029.

The argument about falling school rolls has been used by campaigners against Abacus Belsize Primary School’s proposed move from Camley Street to the old Hampstead Police Station.

Camden’s education chief, Cllr Angela Mason, said: “Births in our borough have fallen by almost 20% from 2012 which means that some of our schools have high numbers of unfilled places, creating significant funding challenges for individual schools and for schools as a whole.

“If we don’t take action, this will put our primary schools at huge risk, leading to unplanned school closures or changes which in turn could lead to uncertainty for families and poorer outcomes for pupils.”

Councillor Jenny Mulholland, who is a governor at Carlton School and is a Labour councillor for Gospel Oak, said the plans were an improvement after the initial fears the school would close altogether.

She said: “Compared to the initial rumour that they were going to close the school, it feels as though it has come a long way. Having to close a school is not something anyone wants. I’m glad to see everybody has looked at all the options and come up with a different alternative.

“The current situation means that there’s not enough money to go around the schools, and that affects whether they can employ enough teaching assistants, for example and provide properly for the children. That’s the reality of where we’re at.

“It’s not a done deal but if it passes, the consultation needs to be comprehensive and inclusive. We need to listen to everyone’s voices. We want it to be seen it treated as a merger of equals, which respects everything that Carlton has to offer the children that go there.”

Oliver Cooper leader of the opposition Conservative group on the council said: “This report admits the sole cause of this crisis: Camden has become increasingly hostile to families. The number of children per household is falling because it’s just not possible for many families to live in Camden. Just 20% of new homes in Camden over the last five years have been three beds or larger, making it more and more expensive for families to live locally.

“Camden Conservatives have continually raised the problem for our schools of only allowing one-beds to be built, but have been ignored.

“Camden desperately needs to require larger homes and shared ownership models, so more families can live in Camden. Until the council makes Camden a family-friendly borough, it will simply kill off our schools one by one.”

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