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Ham&High letters: Fitzroy Park, Heathside Prep School, Brexit, MEPs, dogs and renters

PUBLISHED: 16:30 18 April 2019

Heath users petition to prevent development of nearby plots in Fitzroy Park earlier this year. Front: Mary Powell and Nicky Mayhew, KLPA. Picture: POLLY HANCOCK

Heath users petition to prevent development of nearby plots in Fitzroy Park earlier this year. Front: Mary Powell and Nicky Mayhew, KLPA. Picture: POLLY HANCOCK

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

Social value of tranquility

Robert Sutherland Smith, Widecombe Way, Hampstead Garden Suburb, writes:

Every now and again, we are required to take up the cause of defending the legacy of rustic Hampstead Heath; that marvellous stretch of old Middlesex countryside which, by the marvel of human wisdom and organisation, is still with us.

The latest example of inappropriate development along the Heath's borders, comes in a planning application to demolish 55 Fitzroy Park, and to replace it with not one but five houses; an enterprise in multiplication that will involve taking away some 50 trees and greenery and the civil engineering of much of the entire site of a single existing habitation, which will, if approved, inescapably change the existing balance between buildings and nature.

Fitzroy Park is that amazing thing; a still rural, quiet country hamlet of a relatively few houses, hidden close to the heart of a great city. Here, a hard pressed worker can come at small cost and time, for a lone or family walk in the countryside, absorbing its tranquility and natural beauty.

The thing that will be lost is greatly more valuable than the market price of the proposed, intruding, five houses: no matter how high their estate agency valuation might be, ironically, because of their location.

The scarcity and social value of Fitzroy Park should be protected from overdevelopment, given its nature and integral relationship to Hampstead Heath and those social objectives that first led to the Heath's preservation from property development.

Can't say we agree with pro-Heathside letters in Ham&High

Alex and Sam Pope, NW11, write:

In reply to the opinions published in the Ham&High, we can't say we feel the same fond way about Heathside as the parents who wrote in.

We sent our daughter to the newly-opened “Heathside High” as a Year 8 pupil, into the year group which was sold to us as the first to take GCSEs.

Heathside Preparatory School was very well respected in the area and the dynamic approach of headteacher Melissa Remus seemed like a good fit for our daughter. After a year of chaos and let-downs we decided to withdraw her from the school.

At first there were four girls and 11 boys in the Year 8 group and we were promised more girls would be coming. Unfortunately this didn't happen – instead more and more boys were added to the year and the class became more and more disruptive. We were repeatedly promised by Melissa that the school would bring in more girls but it simply didn't happen. Because of the gender imbalance our daughter became unhappy at school – even though the four girls got on with each other there were not enough of them for there to be extended social groups, creating a very stifling environment.

We also complained that our daughter wasn't getting enough exercise. The term's exercise for Year 8 girls was either table tennis or Tai Chi. At first they said there would be plenty of team sports, but after our complaint we were told not many schools have Year 8 competitive games and that in any event there weren't enough girls in Year 8 to make a team. After repeated requests from us, they suggested that Year 8 join the Year 7 girl's rounders team. But a miscommunication within the school meant that on match day my daughter and friend were left behind and instead they were sent in a taxi with a teaching assistant to catch up. They were dropped to the wrong location and the teaching assistant, having found out where they were supposed to be, bundled the girls into the car of “a friend” – someone who was not an employee of the school and who the girls didn't know – and they all went in search of the rounders match. When they eventually got there, the sports teacher in charge said she knew nothing about it, and that the girls could not join in the match.

It was one of several examples of the disorganisation that led to our decision to withdraw our daughter from the school. We felt very let down by Melissa as we were prepared to take a risk putting our daughter into the pioneering GCSE year group of a growing school but inadequate management systems meant there was often confusion and disorder. It has been galling to hear subsequently that Melissa did not even have the permit to teach children to GCSE level given the impact that this has had on our daughter's social and academic life.

No context to criticism of school

Simon, a parent of a child formerly at Heathside Preparatory School, writes:

My daughter attended Heathside for over 10 years and was one of the first children compelled to leave in Year 10 when the GCSE licence was refused.

There have been some hard words and hurt feelings on both sides but I must confess that the tone of both criticism and reporting have done nothing to help repair a situation where the main losers are the children.

All parties to this crisis needed to focus on the impact the situation has had (and continues to have) on the children, because no vested interest, vendetta or agenda should compromise that and I include the Department of Education and Ofsted in that, and I include the Ham&High, too.

When we learned in August 2018 that our daughter could no longer attend the school we were shocked and a little angry. My initial reaction to the news that Ofsted had filed a critical report was mainly surprise.

My daughter has been for trials at seven good private schools around the country in the last couple of months and found them all markedly inferior in the standard of teaching. And incomparable in terms of good spirit. She feels the other schools are far less inspiring and nurturing and she really doesn't want to attend them.

Here are a few personal observations about Heathside.

• There is no bullying. It is a mutually supportive atmosphere where the children are extraordinarily relaxed.

• The academic standard at Heathside is high.

• There is an openness that is truly endearing; everyone has a go at everything, without embarrassment, criticism or ridicule.

• The children are socially engaged, pleasant and capable of individual thought.

• There's a sense of fun and adventure in everything they do.

• When Ms Remus enters a room the children flock around her. She exudes warmth towards them and they recognise it in her. This is not a person who would ever overlook their safe-keeping.

These fine qualities are extremely hard to achieve in a school community and they have been sadly ignored in assessing the problems at Heathside. There has been no context to your criticism.

The criticism from the education authorities and from local residents has ignored every good quality the school possesses. And the Ham&High has played its grubby part. You needed to talk to a genuine cross-section of school parents.

Your reporting of this catastrophe has been ludicrously one-sided, biased against the school and harmful to the children who remain excluded from class.

Shocked after such high expectations

A parent of children formerly at Heathside, full name and address supplied, writes:

My children were removed from Heathside in November 2018, and they are now in state schools local to where we live.

The quality of the education they are receiving in these state schools is, in my opinion, streets ahead of the education they received at Heathside. They were placed in Heathside when we moved to London from abroad and were navigating a complicated and competitive education system in north London. We relied on Ofsted reports and online reviews of the school. At the time, this was all “outstanding”. We were shocked at the reality of the school.

I am choosing to contact you as I feel angry at the way we were treated by the leadership at Heathside.

Many parents will defend the school by commenting on how happy the children appear to be: many of them are, as they do not learn anything that they do not want to.

Since joining a state school, my son has been singled out for some special educational support. This is something that Heathside failed to pick up on. In my opinion, special educational needs are not prioritised in the school.

My Year 6 child was “educated” in a classroom above a synagogue and was closed for every single Jewish holiday. This meant that my child had no classroom for those holidays and the parents were often told late the night before where to take their children the next day. It was a shambles.

There was no learning and it was disruptive. My child was miserable. Furthermore, the Year 6 teacher only worked in mornings and there was no teacher in the afternoon. Every afternoon, the class would spend a couple of hours at Hampstead Heath.

We haven't looked back: my children are happy and thriving in their new environments.

My hope is that the school is held to account.

School is one big family that cares

Eileen Pearson, West Hampstead, full address supplied, writes:

I have always held the Ham&High in the highest regard but I feel I have to write to you regarding the very one-sided article about Heathside.

The lambasting of the school and its headmistress, Melissa Remus, is completely [different from] what I have witnessed first-hand, so much so that I feel very strongly there is some other agenda at play here [there isn't – ed].

My two granddaughters aged seven and 10 have attended the school for two years since they moved here from America. I have only good things to say about the school. My three daughters were educated in Hampstead at different schools and I only wish Heathside had been around then as their school days were not nearly as happy or fulfilling as my granddaughters'.

The girls and their many friends love their school and look forward to each day with heart-warming enthusiasm. The school is a big family and the members genuinely care about each other.

Heathside provides an exceptional academic and all-round education but most importantly it produces outstanding members of our society. I find the children are across the board bright, empathetic, broad-minded and goal orientated (to the correct degree). It imbues those that attend it with a degree of tolerance, kindness and a focused practicality not found in the majority of schools.

No school is a good fit for every child or teacher for that matter and there are bound to be some that don't agree but they are in the minority and the article only contained their opinions. Heathside has expanded quickly and there have naturally been some teething problems which already have been or are in the process of being resolved.

We'll do just fine outside the EU

Andrew Rodwell, Kilburn Square, writes:

If there is another EU membership referendum then you will find me at the polling booth at 7am voting Leave again.

I had misplaced confidence in Theresa May at the last general election.

But at the time of the Conservative Party leadership election, I wanted her out and replaced by someone who actually believes in Brexit like Boris Johnson or Dominic Raab.

The principle of Brexit is still right: an independent, sovereign UK free to trade with whoever we want around the world without hindrance.

As is usual with referendums regarding the EU, the establishment keep on having referendums until they get the result they want in favour of the EU.

The UK has the lowest unemployment rate since 1975 and we'll do just fine outside the EU.

Now I'm off to listen to some music on the radio and forget about politics for the time being.

Ignore apathy – use your EU vote!

Doug Crawford, Hampstead, full address supplied, writes:

Voting in the forthcoming EU elections really matters! Most people have had enough of Brexit – they want it all to be over and for our government to start focusing on the myriad of domestic problems confronting this country but we must not give in to exhaustion and apathy at this critical time.

The overblown promises of the bright future and return to the sovereignty of yesteryear, promised by the arch Brexiteers, have been shown to be baseless and the dire economic, social and security consequences of leaving the EU is now being recognised.

The chances of Brexit being overturned are increasing, either through a revocation of Article 50 or through a “people's vote”, and it is imperative that we have a European Parliament populated by sensible and dedicated MPs.

This is why it is so important to vote in the EU elections, and to vote for candidates who will deliver on our behalf – we need to ensure that we elect MEPs who are genuinely committed to making constructive change happen.

The quality of the MEPs elected could have a major impact on our future prosperity and wellbeing so don't give in to apathy and exhaustion – turn out and vote!

Be responsible for dog excrement

Alice Iacuessa, Dartmouth Park, Camden, writes:

Dog owners should be responsible for their pets! This morning in Dartmouth Park on the way to the bus, I counted nine bags of dog excrement in a short block.

It is one thing to pick up after a dog and another to dispose of the waste properly. Please be more considerate and responsible!

Council should protect renters

Rachel Boulton, Fortis Green Road, writes:

I was shocked to hear that right now most private renters are on short-term contracts of six months or a year and can be evicted once that term has ended without the landlord having to give a reason.

Private renters' group, Generation Rent, found that just one in every 20 renters who complains to the council about poor conditions gets protection from a revenge eviction.

This is woefully inadequate. I want to know, as the amount of private renters rises, what is our local council doing about it?

Are Brexiteers afraid of vote?

Christopher Mason, Hawley Road, Camden, writes:

And so the sands of time are gradually running out for this particular stage of the Brexit negotiations. And how sad to see so much disagreement in society about a process that we may have hoped would bring us more peace and prosperity.

It would have been good if we had got the information about these changes when Messrs Gove, Johnson and Farage first promulgated the separation from the European Economic Community.

But, alas, it needed three months of increasingly horrendous parliamentary process for the community at large to realise the full extent of what lies before us.

Much of commerce and industry will have to get out of its relationship with Europe and forge a new one with the rest of the world, which includes a United States that will treat us as the last state in their hegemony, including ultra processed beef and chicken.

These industrial changes will bring new conditions in the labour market, with thousands of people losing their jobs when, ironically, they voted “leave” to protect their jobs and keep foreigners out.

And what of those foreigners? All these nations bring their own culture and help us in those areas where we don't do so well, e.g. agriculture, hospitals, catering, and the world of cleaning.

The dreadfully complicated world of the border in Northern Ireland has reduced many of us to tears.It could be that a totally electronic system would help us but somehow that doesn't fill the requirement.

Never mind what might happen in the counties of Kent and Hampshire, et al.

Maybe another referendum is preferable.

What have the Brexiteers to be frightened of if they got a majority last time? If they don't get a majority then maybe it will be because the country is better informed than we were under the three politicians who started it all up and then promptly disappeared!

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