More schools could be faced with closure due to pupil shortage

St Aloysius has already closed and Camden has voted to shut down Carlton

Thursday, 31st December 2020 — By Harry Taylor

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Carlton Primary School

MORE schools in Camden could be closed down due to lack of pupil numbers, it has been warned.

St Aloysius Primary School in Somers Town has already been shut by the Diocese of London, while Camden’s cabinet councillors voted earlier this month to close Carlton Primary School near Queen’s Crescent.

Education chief Labour councillor Angela Mason said that housing costs were fuelling a changing demographic in the borough, and pricing families out the area. Finances were then left strained because schools are funded depending on how many children are attending.

Cllr Mason said: “Since 2011 budgets in Camden schools have been essentially frozen and real income has decreased by 25 per cent. We are in serious situations where we look at new ways of doing things. Camden is less and less attractive to families with children. I would pin [this on] very high housing costs and the difficulty of renting in the private sector because of the housing benefit cap.

“It’s a profound challenge to the borough. It’s unfortunate that Carlton might be the canary in the mine and they are feeling the impact of this first, with the changing demography that will affect the whole of the borough.”

The council is reducing entry at Netley and Argyle primary schools, and is merging Our Lady’s and St Michael’s primary schools in Camden Town.

Branch secretary of Camden National Education Union, Gerald Clark, said he feared more schools could close within five years, and both primary and secondary schools in Camden had seen redundancies in the past few years.

He said: “There is clearly a shift in a demographic. Camden and Islington have both had massive drops in school rolls. There are a lot of reasons for that, and for why in Hertfordshire 1,400 pupils couldn’t get a secondary school place. It’s clear that families are moving and being relocated from inner London to outer London, and the fringes. There are a whole lot of complicating factors, one of them is clearly the cost of a family home in Camden.”

St Aloysius in Somers Town has already closed

Mr Clark added: “There is a lot of new affordable housing being built near King’s Cross but a lot of these are flats and they are suitable for a young couple. Family homes cost a lot of money and so there are less families able to live in Camden.”

He said the issue had been made more difficult through the national funding formula for schools, which was criticised for funnelling cash to schools in historically Conservative-voting “shire” counties.

School heads and council chiefs have also had to front up costs for measures to combat against Covid-19, meaning they have had to dip into reserves. Mr Clark added: “I think it’s inevitable that more schools will close. I think we’ll see a shift and see a pattern of redundancies moving through Camden schools in the next few years. It’s not a surprise to us.”

Cllr Oliver Cooper, leader of Camden Conservatives, said: “Development after development whittles down the number of family homes and leaves schools, nurseries, and communities struggling to survive. Camden’s planning policies must be urgently updated to require all developments to have a majority of family-sized homes.”

Cllr Mason said: “Our schools are facing this challenge collectively and we are proposing changes that, whilst they may be difficult, would achieve a balance over the next 10 years. Without action our schools would be at huge risk of becoming unviable, leading to unplanned closures or further changes that would mean greater uncertainty for families and poorer outcomes for pupils.”

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