Parents anger over school places shortage
Susanna Wilkey PARENTS anger spilled over at a meeting in Swiss Cottage to discuss the severe lack of primary school places in the area. More than 100 families, the majority of which have yet to be offered a school place for their child, heckled Camden C
PARENTS' anger spilled over at a meeting in Swiss Cottage to discuss the severe lack of primary school places in the area.
More than 100 families, the majority of which have yet to be offered a school place for their child, heckled Camden Council representatives at the meeting - prompted by a petition for a new school by Belsize parents.
They are furious that the council's distance-based admissions criteria mean they are often bottom of every waiting list and end up being offered schools on the other side of the borough.
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They slammed the council's decision to spend Primary Strategy for Change cash on a new school in King's Cross and the expansion of Emmanuel School in West Hampstead.
They are also furious with parents they claim are renting flats near popular Hampstead schools to get their children a place.
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Belsize parent and petition organiser Liz Taylor said: "I was overwhelmed by the number of people who came. It just shows the size of the problem and the strength of feeling about this.
"Our children need to go to a local school - not one in King's Cross - and they need the support of the local community. We feel very strongly about this and we want choice for our children.
"A number of parents left wondering whether there would really be any action.
"The council now has to realise that there are four months to put acceptable schooling in place for our children and we are not going to let this problem disappear. It has already been quietly ignored for years."
Debate was heated over the large number of faith schools in Camden. Questions were also raised over why the council had not taken action considering the place shortage problem - revealed in last week's Ham&High.
There are 133 Camden primary schoolchildren without a place for September and 70 who have been offered none of their first four choices.
Fifty-six per cent of those with no offers live in NW3 and a quarter live in the Belsize ward.
South Hampstead parent Mark Spurlock said: "This is a long-standing issue. My daughter went through it last year and we ended up having to send her private.
"Now my son is facing the same problem.
"The criteria penalise people in Swiss Cottage and Belsize because we do not live near a school and you spiral further and further away from all of the schools until you end up with one of the worst in Camden.
"I did not get the sense that the council was committed at the meeting. I have not heard anything different from last year and nothing was done then - even though they say they know there is a problem.
"The fundamental solution is to build a community school in the Swiss Cottage and Belsize area."
Education boss Cllr Andrew Mennear has pledged to set up a working group with parents to solve the problem. He has said the council will look into the possibility of temporary additional classrooms in nearby schools although space is tight. He said: "The first thing we need to do is to show that there is a need for a new school in Belsize, which we are working hard towards. The second is to find a location and the third is to find the costs.
"I personally believe a new school is needed in the Belsize area. It would benefit the overall situation if it was a community school. There is certainly a clear need for something to happen in the area.