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Camden New Journal - by RICHARD OSLEY
Published: 6 December 2007
Councillor John Bryant
Councillor John Bryant

Parents threaten High Court action over new academy plan

A LEAKED memo has exposed how senior Liberal Democrats are desperate to open a new city academy in time to curry favourwith voters at the next council elections.
The explosive briefing document could now be used as evidence in a High Court challenge against Camden Council with parents fighting its decision to allow University College London to take control of a new school planned for Swiss Cottage.
The Lib Dems were last night (Wednesday) facing accusations of playing cynical political games with the future of Camden’s most important school-building project in a generation.
The memo, written by Lib Dem children’s services chief Councillor John Bryant over the summer, includes the view that the Church of England should be held off from being involved in the flagship project – and an apparent wariness that other faith groups could bid for sponsorship if it was decided by an open competition.
It also reveals party concerns that none of Camden’s secondary schools can be regarded as “outstanding”.
The document is the most revealing insight into how the party has tried to drum up support for its plans for a UCL academy in Adelaide Road. It was meant only for the eyes of school governors aligned to the Lib Dems but it is now part of a case file being used by campaigners calling for a judicial review of Camden’s ­hand­ling of the project.
While Cllr Bryant will be wondering which of his supporters leaked such a sensitive document, lawyers representing two parents, Deseline Djiayep and Juliet Prew, have sent an official warning to the council that they are ready to put their case before a High Court judge.
Case papers seen by the New Journal reveal that part of the protesters’ argument will be that the decision was taken for political gain and that the process was flawed by “bias”, prejudiced against a bid from the church and ultimately “unlawful”.
Cllr Bryant declined to comment yesterday (Wednesday), adding only that the issue was “in the hands of the lawyers”.
He has played a key role in the scheme, working alongside Conservative education chief Councillor Andrew Mennear as part of the working arrangements of the split-party coalition. His memo is clearly marked out as his being his own personal view, but as the Lib Dem councillor closest to the issue, he holds significant influence among members and party supporters.
The briefing said that if Camden held a tender competition it “would delay the possibility of having evidence of any building taking place on Adelaide Road at the time of the next election”.
During months of negotiations, Cllr Bryant said that the council were keeping an open mind about what direction the new school project but his memo shows that he was never supportive of a bid by the Church of England.
His briefing said: “The claim that Church of England schools are successful is not always true – the last school in Special Measures in the borough was St Mary and St Pancras Primary nearby to Euston... Personally I am not in favour because while we currently have a number of faith schools in the borough, I don’t think it’s appropriate for the council to assist in the formation of any more.”
He later added: “Don’t forget we have a successful (albeit modest) Foundation across the boundary on the Brent side of Kilburn which runs a Muslim voluntary-aided primary school and an independent girls secondary school.
“An opportunity to bid for a Muslim Academy just two miles east might be attractive to them. If ever an adjudicator wanted to tick the box for diversity these alternatives provide a great opportunity.”
While the council has always talked up the success of Camden’s secondary schools in public, Cllr Bryant did not think their success would hold much weight in a competition if Camden was to lobby for a community school free from sponsorship.
He said: “While none are failing and improvements are taking place across the piece, most would only get Level 3 (satisfactory) in an Ofsted inspection tomorrow. A couple might get Level 2 (good) but none are outstanding.”
Camden’s deputy Labour leader Councillor Theo Blackwell said: “Camden historically had a consensus approach to major decisions about our schools. In quite a manipulative way a new group of Liberal Democrats have pushed through the Swiss Cottage academy without due regard to parents’ and pupils’ needs. The public interest has taken second place to rather crude political jockeying.”
Cllr Mennear said he could not comment on the content of Cllr Bryant’s memo as council lawyers were working on a response to the legal challenge.
He said: “We are confident that if a judge decides that there should be a judicial review that it would find that we did everything in the way it should have been done.”

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Your comments:
I think Councillor Bryant is absolutely right. Why should the
Church of England or any other religious body be permitted to take over
this school? We ned proper schools that are open to everybody and not
being fought over by competing religions. Keep the churches out of it.
Councillor Bryant should be complimented not criticised.
Barry Henderson


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