Hampstead mother calls for tax rebate over school places row

Guerretta family live two yards too far for their school of choice

Charlotte Newton

Education Reporter

A WOMAN whose son has missed out on a place at his local primary school less than 200 metres away, is demanding a council tax rebate.

Nicole Guerretta is furious that five-year-old Max has for the second year running failed to get a place at the school around his corner, Fleet Primary in Fleet Road.

The centre of the family’s Parkhill Road home is just 218 yards away from the centre of the primary. But Camden Council says the cut off point for children to be in the school’s catchment area is 216 yards.

Even little Max could walk the difference in five small steps.

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The council’s policy is to measure the distance from the centre of schools to the centre of homes. If measured to the shortest points, Ms Guerretta would be well within the qualifying distance.

Ms Guerretta, 41, asked: “Would the council consider giving parents who haven’t got into a school they applied to a reduction in council tax? We’re still paying the full whack at �2,218 a year – and we’ve been paying council tax for the 15 years we’ve lived here – yet we’re not receiving the benefits.”

She applied for her son to attend three non-denominational schools in Camden but he was not offered a place at any of them. Instead, the council offered Max a place at St Dominic’s Catholic Primary School in Southampton Road, Gospel Oak.

His parents do not want to send him, or their three-year-old twin daughters, to a faith school. So they are now paying for Max to attend the private Maria Montessori School in Lyndhurst Gardens, while they wait for him to be given a school place.

“I grew up in London and I’m very for state education,” Ms Guerretta said. “I put down three places for non-faith schools but they offered my son a place at St Dominic’s. Why would they offer me a faith school? Would they offer a Jewish family a Muslim school? It’s ignorant and arrogant to do so. Technically it avoided me being part of the statistics of people who have not been offered a place at all.”

The breakdown of admissions to Fleet Primary School last year shows that of the 30 children offered a place, 14 went to children who already had a sibling there, three went to children with special educational needs, leaving just 13 for other children who live locally.

Supporters of a new free school in Belsize point to Ms Guerretta’s experience and recent figures showing that 80 children have not been offered a place at a Camden primary school for September as evidence of the growing need for a new, non-denominational school in NW3.

Parents have been campaigning for two years for Camden to open a school to deal with the shortage of places. They have now applied to the government for permission to open a free school, which would be state funded but out of local authority control, in two council-owned buildings in Fitzjohn’s Avenue.

Campaigner Linda Grove, a retired deputy headteacher, who lives in Belsize Lane said: “This is one example of many which show we need a free school in Belsize. When I was asking people to sign our petition for a free school, I heard the same story time and time again.

“People were saying their child had not been offered a place at a local school and they would have to travel across the borough, move or go private. For many people that is not an option and nor should it be.

“If Camden fails to provide a reasonable primary school place within walking distance of a child’s home then their parents should be given a council tax rebate.”

A Camden Council spokeswoman said: “Mrs Guerretta lives 0.1242 miles from the school, when the cut off distance last year was 0.123 miles, measured from the middle of the home to the middle of the school.

‘‘There are places at other community schools and we will work with the family to find a suitable place for their son.”

She added that the council has addressed the pressure on primary places by creating 15 extra places at Emmanuel School, West Hampstead and supporting the opening of St Luke’s C of E Primary –a free school – in Hampstead, in September.