Second application for Free School in Camden sparks unease

A GROUP of parents has applied to the government for permission to convert a council-owned hostel into a free school – a move which would bring the second such school into the area.

The parents have applied to the Department for Education to open a secular primary school, which will be state-funded but outside of local authority control, for children living in the Belsize area.

Belsize Lane resident Harriet Nowell-Smith sent the application, in which she suggested that the new primary should open in two buildings at 4 Maresfield Gardens and 9 Fitzjohn’s Avenue, in January 2012. The buildings, which are currently used as a hostel, are owned by Camden Council and have a garden between them.

Ms Nowell-Smith wrote to councillor Nash Ali, Leader of Camden Council, on Monday, outlining her proposal.

“These buildings are owned by Camden Council, and currently are used for hostels but in need of refurbishment,” she explained.

“If the Department for Education approves our application, we understand that it would pay for the refurbishment to make them suitable for a primary school.”

The proposal for the school, which is named as Belsize Park Primary in the application, details plans for a one-form entry primary which would have 24 children in each class, aged five to 11.

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The proponents hope to open it by January 2012 for children aged four to six, expanding on an annual basis as children move up the school.

Parents, including Dr Liz Taylor and Leila Roy, who are named as supporters of the application, have long been campaigning for a new primary school in the area.

Last year Camden Council opened the Courthope Education Centre in a church hall in South End Green for children who had not been offered a primary school place in the borough.

The government has already given the go-ahead for members of St Luke’s Church to open a school in the church hall in Kidderpore Avenue, from September 2011.

Critics of free schools say they mean existing state schools will have their finances slashed.

Camden Council’s finance boss, Theo Blackwell, said: “The question is: what is the best use of limited public money? Is it investing in a new boutique school in NW3, or already successful schools which are in need of dire repair?

“This is going to be a hotly contested issue and the government has unfortunately put these parents in the position where they could ask for something which will not benefit the wider population of Camden pupils.”

It has also been suggested that if the plans get the go-ahead a council primary school proposed for Liddell Road, West Hampstead, will be axed,

Luca Salice, chairman of governors at Torriano Junior School in Kentish Town, said: “If the council is going to alienate some land they should look at the whole population of Camden and see where the highest needs are. They shouldn’t just be giving it away to the most vocal group.”