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School places misery set to be over

PUBLISHED: 10:13 04 February 2010 | UPDATED: 16:44 07 September 2010

THE end is nigh for the Belsize schools crisis after governors at St Paul s CofE Primary announced proposals for a permanent expansion. A consultation and feasibility study has been launched by the school on Elsworthy Road about the possibi

Susanna Wilkey

THE end is nigh for the Belsize schools crisis after governors at St Paul's CofE Primary announced proposals for a permanent expansion.

A consultation and feasibility study has been launched by the school on Elsworthy Road about the possibility of expanding from one-form entry to two-form entry.

This would go a long way towards solving the two-form entry shortage which has been predicted for the north west of the borough over the next few years and is felt most severely by families in Belsize Park.

Officers at Camden Council are also understood to be making serious headway with the search for a site for a new school in the wider Belsize area to cater for another form of places.

Schools boss Cllr Andrew Mennear said: "If this expansion goes ahead it will go a long way towards meeting the need for extra school places.

"The possible expansion of St Paul's is great news, although it's not the end of the story. We are continuing to explore possible sites for a new primary which is also needed to address future numbers."

St Paul's has already changed its admissions criteria for the next academic year so that 50 per cent of children will be admitted on religious criteria and the other 50 on distance criteria.

This is an increase of around 20 per cent of local children who can be accepted into the school and will ease the places shortage acutely felt in the Belsize area.

In May 2009, 140 children were left without the offer of a place in reception class and most of these were from Belsize and other wards in the north west.

If the feasibility study goes well St Paul's will be in a position to start the formal consultation with the school community on a detailed proposal in the autumn. It is hoped the expansion would take place in September 2013 once building work is complete.

Children and young people's boss Cllr Janet Grauberg added: "St Paul's is a much loved, high-achieving school with a substantial waiting list. The extra places proposed would help to provide a better choice of school places for parents, particularly those in Belsize and Swiss Cottage."

The places shortage regularly hits the north west of the borough hard. Fewer schools in the area leaves dozens of children without a place with many forced to accept a school much further away.

The high number of faith schools in Camden and in particular around NW3 also leaves many parents with little or no choice about where to send their child.

The problem reached crisis point last year because of fewer parents sending children to private schools, alongside a birth rate boom.

The council had to set up the temporary Courthope education centre in a church hall in South End Green to provide for 25 children who have now been offered places at a bulge class in Primrose Hill School.

Parents have been campaigning hard for a new school since May last year to ensure that what happened to them does not happen to anyone else.

Campaigner Leila Roy has launched an online petition for a new school in the Belsize area and wants all the parliamentary candidates to put it on their manifesto.

Parents also want Camden to publish the figures for how children are admitted to school, either on faith or distance criteria, so they are more informed before making their choices.

To sign the petition visit http://petitions.number10.gov.uk/Belsizeschool.

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