South of the borough could get a new school
Parents call for Mount Pleasant post office depot to make way for a school during a recent protest
Education secretary looks into building new academy south of Euston Road after meetings with campaigners and MP
EDUCATION secretary Ed Balls wants Camden to open a new secondary school in the south of the borough to help parents struggling to find places for their children.
He has ordered his department to look at ways families “south of the Euston Road” can be helped after they were dealt out of the council’s new academy plan.
His aides are said to be disappointed the area was not made an absolute priority in the first place when Camden was handed a £200 million government grant to build a new school and refurbish its existing secondaries.
Instead, the Town Hall has opted to build its new school in Adelaide Road, Swiss Cottage.
Mr Balls has now been made acutely aware of the tensions in the south of Camden.
He glossed over the unrest when he gave approval on Friday for Camden to work with University College London to get to work in Swiss Cottage.
In the wider picture, Mr Balls is delighted that such prestigious academic support has been tied into its academy programme at a time when the government is still trying to convince many teachers and governors that the use of independent sponsors makes sense.
But, for the first time, he has called on Camden to specifically do something to help children who will have little chance of getting into UCL’s new academy – even raising the prospect of the borough getting a second new school.
“Plans are also being looked at for two academies in Camden,” said a Department for Children, Schools and Families statement (DCSF).
“Camden has some very deprived areas and a strong need for good new schools. The department is working with Camden Council and local parents to explore the possibility of a second site for an academy, south of the Euston Road.”
The new attention from on high comes after parents, so fed-up with the treatment from what they saw as the council’s closed ears, went to see Mr Balls for private meetings and vigorous behind-the-scenes lobbying from Holborn and St Pancras MP Frank Dobson.
His announcement is said to have caught the council off-guard and education chiefs have admitted that they were not expecting it.
The news has set up a potentially embarrassing situation for UCL, which has already said it would rather have sponsored a new school on its doorstep in Bloomsbury than the academy planned for Swiss Cottage.
Vice-provost Professor Michael Worton said last week that the location of the new school had been a council decision and not one made by the university.
He said: “What we want to do now is to ramp up our commitment by focusing on a close relationship by sponsoring a single school.”
Mr Dobson said the breakthrough came after a week of discussions which he described as “animated” and during which Mr Balls was filled in on the history of the dispute.
Mr Dobson said: “This is recognition from government that it must do something to help some of the most-deprived areas in Camden, a recognition that the council has not had.
“The council would be foolish to ignore the need any more. Camden has talked about increasing space at South Camden Community School but I don’t think anybody thinks that is the answer.”
Camden’s education chief Councillor Andrew Mennear said he was “surprised” to see the government’s interest in a second academy for the south of the borough put out in a press release.
He said: “We weren’t expecting it to say what it did, but welcome the fact that the government has shown this interest and this drive to help this area. I would refute the claim that we haven’t recognised the need in the area, but we have had to work within government timetables and funds.”
Cllr Mennear said the government had already received an explanation over why Camden had not been able to get plans for a school in the south of the borough off the ground.
He said: “We have had our meetings with the DCSF and they are aware of the difficulties in finding a site in that area. That problem still exists.”