Ham&High letters: Abacus school, hate crime and police funding

Abacus Belsize Primary School want to turn former Rosslyn Hill police station into a school. Pictur

Abacus Belsize Primary School want to turn former Rosslyn Hill police station into a school. Picture: HARRY TAYLOR - Credit: Archant

Letters, contributions and comments sent in from Ham&High readers this week.

No reason to block Abacus

C Lane, Belsize resident, writes:

Todd Berman and Andrew Neale, the chairmen of Hampstead Committee for Responsible Development. are so opposed to Abacus Belsize Primary School.

They cite pollution, strain on local schools, cost of the school, risk to the older people and children and climate change. Is Abacus Belsize really such a threat?

They oppose a school of 210 pupils that has existed since 2013. A school whose children currently walk to school and will not lead to pollution and early deaths. A school with its own catchment area which deliberately does not encroach on the catchments of other schools.

Mr Berman and Mr Neale claim that they are not opposed to Abacus per se. I do not believe this for one minute. They must have been told the facts and they know full well that the Department for Education have considered many other sites in the NW3 area. They know there are nowhere near enough spare spaces at New End and all the other Hampstead schools combined to meet the needs of Abacus Belsize families. This is why the school opened in the first place! A drop in childbirth in the borough has not changed things either. The school is both loved and needed. New End is over twice the distance from the centre of the Belsize catchment area that the Rosslyn Hill police Station is. If people are concerned that Abacus children will be driven to the police station, how do they expect that they will be able to walk the extra distance up the hill to New End?

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Abacus Belsize primary school is a wonderful, local, state school which will benefit the community for years to come.

Abacus move is in best interests of children, families and education

Harriet Nowell-Smith, chairwoman of governors , Abacus Belsize Primary School, writes:

I was very disappointed to hear that governors of several local Camden schools chose to speak in opposition to our planning application.

The reports of their deputation to the council last week included numerous inaccuracies, and I am writing to set out some facts for your readers in response to these and other comments opposing our planning application. I would also like to provide some context, which seems to have been overlooked.

Abacus is not a new school. It is not an idea or a proposal for the future. Abacus has been teaching Camden children in our local community for the past six years. These are real children who are members of real families in the local area. We already teach more than 150 children from Reception to Year 5 and in September we will add another 30 in Reception and move our original intake to Year 6. These are Camden citizens - as diverse as the rest of the borough in all aspects of ethnicity, faith (and none) and income - who are receiving an outstanding state education and whose futures are at stake.

Abacus receives exactly the same funding as the other Camden state schools, on a per-pupil basis (it is roughly one-third of the cost of private education, and we care as passionately as other local schools about the need for this level to be higher). The main expense of any school is the staff. We have the benefit of a staffing model that employs energetic, enthusiastic, brilliant newly qualified teachers who are supported by experienced senior teachers to use top teaching methods, and we are led by an outstanding headteacher. The benefits of this model are clear when you walk in the door: the staff are delighted to be there and so are the children. And you can see the benefits in our results, which are consistently among the best in Camden.

The governors of other schools refer to their concerns about losing pupils due to falling birth rate in the borough and having to restructure around that. But, even if they had the spaces, forcing Belsize children to attend their schools is not a good policy solution nor practical when you look at the geography. Their sites are simply too far away. Camden Council plans school places in six geographical areas. Belsize is in planning area three, which stretches from the east to the west of the borough and is several miles wide. Belsize children were often offered places at Brecknock Primary, which is as far away as our temporary site on the other side of Kentish Town on the Islington border. That is far too far for a four-year old child to walk twice a day, with no tube at the other end for parents to get to work. Even New End is a 45 minute walk to the very top of Hampstead from our catchment, which goes south to Adelaide Road.

Let's not descend into a turf war; other local schools serve their communities and Abacus serves Belsize. Our catchment area was devised so as not to encroach on others and we don't. Establishing our permanent home at the police station on Rosslyn Hill will have no greater impact on the numbers and funding of Hampstead schools because we are already a school full of children of our own. We are oversubscribed for Reception and Year 1 for September. It is sad that there is still unmet need in our catchment area. To suggest that there are empty places in nearby schools for reception is simply untrue, even if parents are given no choice but to see their children educated in a religious faith they do not share.

Moving close to our community will mean that families can walk to a nearby school instead of walking to a 20 minute bus ride twice a day. It will mean doing away with environmental impact and the unsustainable financial expense of those bus journeys. Parents will feel close to the school, be able to have a casual word with the teacher and enjoy the sense of community and friendships that are born at the school gates. We think it is an important public benefit that children walk to a local school. It has always been an important part of our ethos and always will be. We know that Hampstead has many private schools whose parents drive their children from outside the area. We should not be falsely accused of being part of this problem.

Building a sense of community is particularly important in Camden because it has some of the greatest income disparity in the country. The catchment area for Abacus has on average 30 per cent of children on free school meals (much above the national average) and includes the hostels on England's Lane, the Aspern Grove estate and the tower blocks on Adelaide Road. We also attract children from wealthier families who would otherwise go to private schools. One of our successes is mixing these children for the benefit of everyone.

Abacus is committed to working with local Camden schools: we attend meetings with Camden schools and wish to collaborate and work in partnership with other local primaries. I am proud that our headteacher has forged good working relationships with other heads and would like to do the same with local governors. I invited discussion at a recent Camden Forum for governors and have extended an open invitation to other governors to come and visit Abacus and to meet me to discuss the situation. We have also invited local councillors to visit the school and I would very much welcome that.

I am disappointed in the tone of the public debate. It is sad and ironic that this discussion is about a school site, and in school we expect children to learn the basic virtues of citizenship: how to think clearly and be honest, even when self-interest gets in the way. I have written to the governors of the local state schools and seek a dialogue with them for the benefit of our community. As with so many things in our world, this is not a time to be squabbling among ourselves but a time to be coming together in the best interests all our schools and all our children.

Why we're lucky to have Abacus

Jenny Kananov Shayo, Lyndhurst Gardens, Hampstead, writes:

My six-year-old son is a pupil in Abacus Belsize Primary and my four-year-old son will be starting there in reception this September.

I'm writing to you because I would like to express my support for Abacus and respond to previous letters regarding the school that were published in Ham&High.

Recently, comments were made stating that there is no need for a new school in the area. I'd like to begin by explaining that Abacus is not a new school. It was established in 2013 and is about to take its seventh Rreception intake in September. 180 families will be taught in Abacus in the next academic year.

Abacus has been oversubscribed for several years. My boys were lucky to get a place, but I personally know several families who chose Abacus as their first option and ended up on a waiting list. I also know families who used to live in Belsize Park and moved away because of the challenges involved in securing a place in a secular, state school. Surely this shows that Abacus is much needed?

Yes, Hampstead and Belsize Park have many schools, but the majority of these schools are private. Families from Belsize Park who can't afford or choose not to take the private route are left with very few options, most of which are religious. And yes, things are better now with fewer children ending up without a place in a local school. But this is actually due to the fact that for the past six years, Abacus has been providing excellent, free and secular education for the local children.

Comments were also made suggesting that Abacus will increase pollution in the area and that this is a "commuter school". The truth is that Abacus has always had a car free policy. In fact, many of us, my family included, don't even own a car. You can see this every day when all the families walk, cycle or scoot to the bus stops and this will remain the same when we move to the former police station. For many of us the building on Rosslyn Hill will actually be closer to home than the two bus stops at Swiss Cottage and Chalk Farm. Abacus has recently introduced a brilliant initiative that would make the school run easier and greener: there would be a "walking bus" with children and parent volunteers walking together to school every morning. This just shows how committed we all are to the car free policy.

Clearly climate change and air pollution are major global problems that should be taken seriously by everyone. We are all parents who chose to live and raise our children in this area. We care about clean air and reducing pollution just as much as the other local residents.

To conclude, I'd like to emphasise what a valuable asset Abacus Primary is for the local community. It is a wonderful and inclusive school; the staff members are amazing and incredibly devoted; the children couldn't be happier. I feel lucky and proud to be one of Abacus' families.

The school is currently located in a temporary site near King's Cross and our children are forced to travel by bus twice a day, usually during rush hours, through congested and polluted streets of Camden Town. Our children deserve to have a permanent site for their school, one that is a walking distance from their homes.

I'm asking the local residents to support the planning application that would allow Abacus to move to its new home at the former police station building on Rosslyn Hill. Please write - supporting Planning Application Number 2019/2375/P—to Mr David Fowler: david.fowler@camden.gov.uk

Action needed to stop hate crime

Marisha Ray, Lib Dem London Assembly Candidate for Barnet and Camden, writes:

It was a significant honour to be invited and included at the recent Isaiah Berlin Lecture at the United Synagogue in West Hampstead, by longstanding family friends, who have been lifelong members of the synagogue.

We heard of the ongoing struggles of the Labour Party in promptly addressing antisemitism and of the need for an unqualified apology.

At the same time, the Mayor of London must step up his efforts to address all hate crime in London and the unacceptable hate faced by those who staff many of our places of worship of various faiths in London. All too often it is the receptionists, security officers and administrators who listen to voicemails who are facing messages of hate day-in, day-out, away from the glare of the media spotlight.

More must be done to ensure that all those who perpetrate hate crime are brought to justice and tolerance prevails.

Still time to tackle rising crime

Jessica Learmond-Criqui, local campaigner, writes:

I am writing in response to Andrew Dismore's latest letter (Government can boost Met funding). This must be the most polite letter that Mr Dismore has written since we started corresponding in your pages.

Mr Dismore notes that I have lobbied the government and in particular, Mrs May and Boris Johnson when he was mayor of London, both to no avail. But, of course, I have also been lobbying Sadiq Khan as current mayor, through him. You see, there is no other way to lobby the mayor as other channels are not direct and when I have tried the general email address, I have found it generally to be a black hole out of which no responses emerge.

I am pleased to hear about the cancellation of the Rotherhithe Bridge project but wonder whether that planned £400m will be used now for the Met. I had mentioned that project and the £462,794 Newham beach event as two cost centres which could be redirected to the Met. There must be others.

I do accept that the mayor is struggling under the yoke of massive government cuts which he cannot easily make up but his initial and subsequent attempts to obtain more funds from the government have been anaemic. Even though the government has been intransigent in providing more funds, it is his job to lobby them, to let the public know that he is lobbying them and to ensure that they are held to account for the swell in violent crime on our streets.

The seeds of the current breakdown in our police forces and massive increase in crime were sown by Boris Johnson when he was mayor when he cut £500m from the Met's budget. Further cuts under Mayor Khan have caused massive damage to the Met and Londoners are now cowering in their homes and afraid on the streets, with young people dying in their droves. They are not being protected Mr Dismore - whether it's the government or Mayor Khan's fault, the result is the same - Londoners are unprotected and suffering.

Homes in North West London are being ram raided with machete wielding attackers, law abiding citizens are being targeted returning to their homes, knife crime is out of control, police numbers are abysmally low - you and I are fighting for the same end. But, I have no influence over Mayor Khan - you do. You are retiring before the next election and you are well placed as a member of the London Assembly to leave a lasting legacy to stem the rising tide of crime. What will it be Mr Dismore?