‘Decision with a heavy heart’: School closure threat hangs in the air

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‘Decision with a heavy heart’: School closure threat hangs in the air
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A school in Islington could be axed within months after closure plans moved on to the next stage.

The future of Montem Primary School continues to be threatened after Islington Council’s executive meeting proposed the closure on Thursday “with a heavy heart.”

Faced with falling pupil numbers and less government funding because of it, the council has proposed to merge Montem with Duncombe Primary School to secure the joint school’s “financial future.”

If approved, the amalgamation of the two Hornsey schools under Duncombe’s roof would take place on 31 August.

Chair of the council’s executive Cllr Kaya Comer-Schwartz told the meeting: “None of us got into politics to talk about moving children from one school to another and I want to be clear this is a problem of the government’s making.”

She said the government’s approach to school funding was “one size fits all, however, which doesn’t work for London.”

The drop in pupil numbers is caused by “high rents and Brexit and other issues”, she said.

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Hornsey struggles with the highest pupil vacancy rate in the borough, with 32 per cent of reception places unfilled, council figures showed.

The Department for Education’s (DfE) recommended vacancy rate is just five per cent, though most London councils target 10 per cent.

How much money each school gets depends on the number of pupils at the start of the academic year.

For every unused place, the school is missing out on an estimated £5,500 per year.

All existing pupils will have a place in the merged school, with capacity for 585 pupils, the council promised.

Cllr Michelline Safi Ngongo also blamed the closure plan on the government, saying “it is not just an Islington problem.”

“Councils across London are facing the same situation,” she said.

Both Montem and Duncombe have a vacancy rate of around 50 per cent in reception, she added.

“They’re both ‘good’ schools but they still have a problem filling the vacancies.”

She slammed the DfE for “blocking” the council’s attempt to shut Pooles Park Primary School, rated ‘inadequate’ by Ofsted, saying it was “ideologically driven and not driven by what’s best for our borough and children.”

Pooles Park Primary School was ordered to become an academy, meaning the Town Hall couldn’t close it. Instead, it will be run by The Bridge London Trust as an academy.

A formal consultation is currently underway on the proposed closure of Blessed Sacrament RC Primary School in King’s Cross.

What happens next?

The formal consultation is expected to open shortly for parents, carers, staff and members of the public to make their representations.

The Town Hall will make its final decision at its meeting in April.

Cllr Comer-Schwartz said: “We all want to do our best here in Islington and the council completely understands the concerns of parents and teachers, but we have been put in an impossible situation.

“The decision taken tonight will be one with a heavy heart.

“I ask that you join us in taking the fight to the government and making farer funding for schools so that councils are no longer put in these situations.”

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