Former head calls for ‘meaningful public engagement’ over Carlton and Rhyl primary schools merger

Carlton Primary School. Picture: Google

Carlton Primary School. Picture: Google - Credit: Archant

A letter to the Department for Education claims Camden Council’s proposals to merge Carlton Primary School with Rhyl Primary “ride roughshod” over the rights of children.

Signatories to the letter include a former head and deputy headteacher at Carlton Primary, along with parents, carers and former governors.

From September 2021, Carlton Primary would be legally closed and the new Rhyl would be based across the two sites.

The proposals were unveiled this week, along with other sweeping changes to the borough’s primary schools.

Carlton parents told councillors in January that closure would have a “devastating impact locally”.

The joint letter, sent on Tuesday, calls on the government to investigate the proposals and make the council defer a decision until there has been “meaningful public engagement”.

Members of Parents at Carlton Primary Action Group (PCPAG), and other parents and carers, are split over the current proposals for the 137-year-old school in Grafton Road this week. Some cautiously welcomed the plans while others said the decision should be paused to find an alternative.

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The plan, set to go to cabinet on September 3, is among a raft of changes in response to declining school rolls. It includes merging Our Lady’s and St Michael’s in Camden Town, and a reduction in places at St Dominic’s Catholic Primary in Southampton Road, Netley Primary in Stanhope Street and Argyle in Tonbridge St. All of which had vacancies last year, with St Dominic’s being worst hit, with 40 per cent surplus places.

Parents, carers and teachers at Carlton met with council leader Georgia Gould, and education chief Angela Mason on the eve of the coronavirus pandemic to discuss the plans. Some at the school say the pandemic stopped suggestions being put forward of alternatives which would have kept the school open.

Sally Kellner, who has been a carer for children at the school for eleven years, said: “The problem is that there is no time if we start on September 3 to have a proper consultation with the parents and carers. They should pause the decision until the children have settled back in and [we] have had chance to present our alternatives. This will be really disruptive to pupils at the start of the school year, settling back into school life.”

Others have urged the council to safeguard jobs and maintain Carlton’s ethos.

READ MORE: Camden Council plan for closure of Carlton Primary and merger with Rhyl Primary as part of sweeping school changes

Noella Bello Castro, whose 8-year-old son Josh attends the school, said: “I am concerned about the need to close Carlton as a legal entity - it’s crucial that Carlton’s ethos is maintained if any changes do take place. I would also like assurances from Camden in terms of how they will achieve a true merger, as opposed to a takeover - for example ensuring our staff have the same job security as those at Rhyl.”

However Ms Bello Castro did partially welcome the move, adding: “Given the circumstances, moving from talking about outright closure to discussing a merger of the two schools alongside a valuable community hub feels like it could be a solution that works for all of us”.

Her views echoed those of Gospel Oak councillor, and governor at Carlton, Jenny Mulholland, who called for the move to be a “merger of equals”.

She said: “It’s not a done deal. But if it passes, the consultation needs to be comprehensive and inclusive. We need to listen to everyone’s voices. We want it to be seen it treated as a merger of equals, which respects everything that Carlton has to offer the children that go there.”

A public consultation will open in late September on the £700,000 plans if the recommendations are backed next week. The meeting will take place a day after Carlton teachers return to the school for inset days ahead of the new school year.

Announcing the plans, Camden’s education chief Angela Mason said: “Births in our borough have fallen by almost 20% from 2012 which means that some of our schools have high numbers of unfilled places, creating significant funding challenges for individual schools and for schools as a whole.

“If we don’t take action, this will put our primary schools at huge risk, leading to unplanned school closures or changes which in turn could lead to uncertainty for families and poorer outcomes for pupils.”

The papers due to go before the two Camden committees next month lay bare the problems with declining school rolls in the borough.

With the backdrop of falling rolls, the town hall’s proposals amount to a loss of 135 primary school places. The papers say Camden has suffered a “dramatic fall in birth rates which means that there are now fewer children requiring school places” and one of the lowest fertility rates in the UK.

In October 2019 there were 230 pupils in reception to year 6 at Carlton, which has a capacity of 420 places. Nearby Rhyl had 328 pupils on roll, with the same capacity as Carlton. The changes would come into effect in September 2021.

Across Camden’s September 2019 reception intake, there was 119 unfilled places, which according to council projections, could reach 148 places by 2028/2029.

The argument about falling school rolls has been used by campaigners against Abacus Belsize Primary School’s proposed move from Camley Street to the old Hampstead Police Station.

Cllr Oliver Cooper, who leads the Conservative group on Camden Council said the town hall’s housing policies had contributed to the issues, and that not enough larger homes had been built.

He said: “This report admits the sole cause of this crisis: Camden has become increasingly hostile to families. The number of children per household is falling because it’s just not possible for many families to live in Camden. Just 20% of new homes in Camden over the last five years have been three beds or larger, making it more and more expensive for families to live locally.

“Camden desperately needs to require larger homes and shared ownership models, so more families can live in Camden.

“Until the council makes Camden a family-friendly borough, it will simply kill off our schools one by one.”