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Belsize Park free school bid thrown out but parents may try again next year

Campaigners warn decision means children will have to travel long distances

Published: October 13, 2011

PARENTS hoping to set up a free school in Belsize Park were dealt a huge blow this week when the Department for Education turned down their proposal.

They had hoped to set up a one-form entry primary school in former hostels owned by Camden Council in Maresfield Gardens and Fitzjohns Avenue.

But after Whitehall officials considered their proposals, they were told the bid for government cash to run the school had been rejected.

The Department for Education has refused to reveal why the bid was turned down. It said: “They are welcome to re-apply for 2013. Lots of free school proposals are of a very high standard but there are limited numbers we can say yes to.”

Parent Stacey Eden, who has a three-year-old boy, said that, because Whitehall had limited money for new free schools, not all applications were going to be waved through.

He added: “The department had planned to say yes to anywhere between 50 to 100 free schools around the country, but has given the go- ahead to 55 this year. We are disappointed and we may go back and apply again next year.”

He said that about 144 primary-aged children in Belsize Park would now need to find new schools to attend – and for many this would mean long journeys to other schools where there was space.

Mr Eden said: “We are in a big area with lots of children but no school. It just does not add up.  Our application was good or we would not have been shortlisted. They simply told us there were applications that were stronger.”

The campaign would now look again at the options, he said. “We do not want a faith school and we only went down the free school route because there are not the council-run schools we need in the area,” he added.

Belsize Lib Dem councillor Tom Simon, who has worked on the campaign, said: “This is, of course, extremely disappointing. The campaigners worked very hard and put together a strong bid and should be congratulated for getting as far as they did.

“Conservative Secretary of State Michael Gove has made a poor decision and local children are left without the school they so badly need.”

Camden Council refused to halt the sale of the hostels before the Whitehall decision came through. The Town Hall said the cash raised – rumoured to be worth around £12million – was needed to spend on rundown council housing. Parents threatened legal action if the sale was confirmed before the free school was given the green light – or, as it transpired, rejected.

Labour finance chief Councillor Theo Blackwell said he hoped the parents and the Town Hall could work in a non-politically-charged atmosphere on the best way forward.

He said: “We have been told for three months that this is a dead cert and that we should hang on before we make our decision over the hostels. This has not happened.

“We have a plan to create extra places in the north-west of the borough where demand is highest. Government rules have changed on the size and scale so maybe we can look again at this issue. The campaign made a case for better school choice in the Belsize area and now the government has said no we need to re-set the discussions and address the issue in a measured way.”


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