Camden News - by RICHARD OSLEY Published: 5 June 2008
Edith Neville School in Somers Town
‘Schools could share site’ plan sparks revolt
Governors: ‘We won’t be bullied’
EDUCATION chiefs are facing a major governors’ rebellion after ignoring parent protests and forcing through plans to move an award-winning school for deaf children onto the grounds of a Somers Town primary.
The Town Hall has been warned that the re-siting risks harming the education of children at both schools.
Under the plans, Frank Barnes School for Deaf Children will be evicted from its current home in Swiss Cottage to make room for Camden’s first academy school. It will be relocated – or “shunted”, to use the words of some critics of the council – to the grounds of Edith Neville School in Phoenix Road.
At a meeting of Camden Joint Chairs of Governors, a body representing governing bodies of all the borough’s schools, on Thursday members passed a motion calling the move “deplorable”.
Forming a powerful alliance of opponents, governors said the decision had been forced on Edith Neville by the council’s ruling Liberal Democrat and Conservative coalition, effectively taking power away from the school to make crucial decisions for itself.
Dorothea Hackman, vice-chairman of the CJCG, said: “Camden Council is going about this in quite the wrong way, imposing decisions top down based on financial criteria instead of the best interests of both communities and children.” Nobody at the meeting voted against the motion.
Significantly, the proposal to face down the council over the relocation was backed by governors of all political persuasions. Education chiefs are now treading a fine line between getting their way and antagonising key supporters.
Some protesters feel the ruling coalition was so eager to get an academy built in Swiss Cottage that it did not think carefully enough about what would happen to Frank Barnes, whose governors have had to fight for the school to stay in the borough through a series of campaign marches last year.
The move has sparked discussion on whether the school should break from council control by seeking foundation status, which would give it full control over its future. Some political sources are even suggesting the row could escalate to a vote of no confidence in the department’s chiefs unless it is resolved soon.
Edith Neville staff and governors insist their argument is not with Frank Barnes but with the council. School governor Esther Caplin said: “Camden’s efforts to try and force another school onto our site are impractical and damaging. And other governors can see that.”
She added: “Governors from all different types of school in Camden know there is an important principle at stake. It is obviously outrageous for the council to ride roughshod over the views of a governing body, parents and staff. “Other governors know we are a well-run school that really cares for our children and what happens to them. Our pupils come from some of the least privileged homes in the country and governors can see that what is happening to us could happen to them. The council is trying to bully us into submission and the message is clear: we won’t be bullied. We will not lose this fight.”
Camden’s Conservative education chief Councillor Andrew Mennear said: “There are some people who disagreed with the decision and they are entitled to that opinion but by doing this we are bringing forward the refurbishment of Edith Neville and a whole generation of pupils will benefit. It’s time to see the benefits this will bring.”
He added: “On the one hand people are saying that we have rushed the decision but if you take longer people say that you are keeping Frank Barnes waiting to see what will happen to their school.”