Camden schools face cash blow if they switch to academies

Warning that Camden Council funding for rebuilding will be withheld

Published: September 15, 2011

SECONDARY schools are being discouraged from breaking free from council control to turn into independently run academies.

Headteachers and governors have been warned that schools which take on academy status and effectively run themselves with outside sponsors will not qualify for rebuilding cash from the council.

The policy was laid out in the clearest terms last week in an email to senior school staff from Ann Baxter, the council’s director of children schools and families.

Instead, academies will be told to negotiate funding deals with the government or their outside backers.

Camden has adopted this stance as it cobbles together a repairs programme for primaries and secondaries most in need of work. The issue has been a major bone of contention between the Town Hall and Whitehall since £200million of school rebuilding projects in Camden were axed last year.

Labour finance chief Councillor Theo Blackwell said: “We are very clear that local resources and local assets should be used for local schools collectively. If schools do their own thing, that’s up to them but we need to concentrate on Camden’s family of existing schools.”

No secondary school in Camden has publicly expressed an interest in becoming an academy. But senior figures at the council have told the New Journal off  the record that they believe it is “only a matter of time before some of them start thinking about it”.

The UCL Academy, a new school, opens in Swiss Cottage next year.

Relations between Camden’s secondary schools are historically warm, but behind the scenes there is growing concern about whether  they will be able to fill their places after the creation of new schools, not just in Camden, expands the choices for parents.

Under pressure from this possible new competition, some members in the ruling Labour group fear Camden’s existing schools will start considering their options. It has already created some tension as schools try to balance a desire to campaign to get repairs to ageing buildings but at the same time appear attractive to   prospective parents.

The plea to work to­gether rather than go it alone was repeated in the findings of an investigation into school­ing in Camden ordered by the council earlier this year.

The Education Commission, headed by outside consultant Sir Mike Tomlinson, a former chief inspector of schools, filed an interim report on Tuesday playing up the importance of Camden’s “family of schools” working together.

Asked by the New Journal whether this co-operation could prove irrelevant in the face of academies and free schools opening, Sir Mike said: “I think that is a risk. They have the capacity to go their own way entirely. Our understanding from the academy and the free school already in operation is that they are expressing a desire to be part of the Camden family.

“We are not looking to restrict what schools do – we are saying: what can schools do together rather than individually?”

He added: “I can think of other local authorities where the schools have already decided the last people they want on board is the local authority. That is not the case in Camden.”

‘We had to bring in experts for inquiry’

THE leader of Camden Council said the Town Hall does not have the top-level “expertise” among its staff and resources to run an in-depth investigation into the borough’s schooling.

Asked why Camden had brought in outside help in the shape of a panel of three consultants, including former chief inspector of schools Sir Mike Tomlinson, to help map out the future for schools and their relationship with the council, Labour boss Councillor Nasim Ali said: “We have expertise in the council but not at the same level as Sir Mike.”

Findings by the Education Commission, which has spent three months interviewing headteachers, governors, pupils and parents, include the conclusion that families all agree that they want a good school close to where they live.

An interim report has come up with recommendations such as making sure every child can swim by the time they leave primary school, taking pupils on more trips to museums and galleries and giving governors better guidance and training.

The report, released with a launch at Brecknock School on Tuesday morning, includes suggestions to get universities and businesses in the area to play a greater part in local education.

Sir Mike said the work of the panel would challenge all Camden’s schools to reach at least “good” rating from Ofsted reports.

He said: “We want to make Camden the place of choice for people to send their children to school and the place of choice for teachers to want to teach.”

Questioned at the launch on the decision to hire consultants, Cllr Ali said: “We wanted to get additional support and get a different perspective. When you talk to people at different levels, people can react differently. We were bringing a panel of experts together to get the best out of people.”

A full report will be published with a launch event at Haverstock School in November.


Post new comment

By submitting this form, you accept the Mollom privacy policy.