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Camden News - by RICHARD OSLEY
Published: 17 July 2008

Ten-year-old Edith Neville pupils Adam Twigg and Wamiq Matin campaigning at the Chalton Street Festival on Saturday
Primary threatens to go it alone

A PRIMARY school is considering breaking away from Camden’s education system by seeking “foundation” status after a heady row with the Town Hall over the use of its grounds.
Governors at Edith Neville Primary School are angry that their views have been ignored as the council plans to use the school’s site in Ossulston Street, Somers Town, as the new home for Frank Barnes School for Deaf Children.
The two schools are not merging but will share the same grounds, under plans due to be confirmed at a meeting of Camden’s cabinet of senior councillors on Wednesday night.
Hopes of a peace deal are fading and Cavend­ish Elithorne, vice-chairman of governors at Edith Neville, has warn­ed that the school is already thinking of the possibility of gaining foundation status.
Foundation schools are run more independently from local authorities, with the governing body effectively in control. Such a change-around at Edith Neville would, in theory, give governors the right to say what goes on the site.
Mr Elithorne said: “The council is very close to the precipice of fundamentally undermining the relationship with schools. We haven’t had a meaningful response to our inquiries. We will not be bullied and are considering foundation status. While that is going on, the grounds may not be used for other purposes.”
Council chiefs have taken legal advice and believe the application would fail on the basis that it would disrupt established plans designed to help pupils across the borough – but the matter would still have to be ruled on by the Office of the Schools Adjudicator. The process could at least delay work on the site.
Mr Elithorne added: “We will vigorously defend our land. We are convinced a reasonable adjudicator would see there isn’t surplus land on the site.”
Liberal Democrat councillor Nancy Jirira said “energy was being wasted” on the dispute and risked causing delays to school refurbishments.
The latest discussion came at a scrutiny committee meeting, a session where backbenchers review council policy.
The cross-party panel voted against the “co-location” but its views do not have to be taken on board by the ruling Liberal Democrat and Conservative coalition.
Frank Barnes School – which is not in dispute with Edith Neville – is being moved because its current site is needed for Camden’s first city academy, planned for Adelaide Road, in Swiss Cottage.
The redevelopment of both schools has been promoted as a chance to bring long-awaited refurbishment work to Edith Neville. Labour councillor Geethika Jayatilaka said: “The promise of the redevelopment is like hold­­ing a sword over the heads of the governing body.”
Edith Neville campaigners were out in force at Chalton Street Festival on Saturday, collecting names for a petition. It will be taken to Wednesday’s meeting in the hope that concessions can still be won.
But Conservative education chief Councillor Andrew Mennear said that, while he had no ideological opposition to foundation schools, the council’s legal advice suggested that if Edith Neville’s potential application was aimed at blocking the council’s redevelopment plans it was likely to fail.
“Any argument that this would not be in the interests of future generations of pupils at the two schools will be difficult to sustain because we have Camden’s children at heart,” he added.

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