I have been deeply frustrated that Camden has refused to listen to local residents and its own schools over a location for Abacus Free School. The Camden New Journal has written about my concerns this week.
The Education & Skills Funding Authority (ESFA) bought the old Hampstead Police Station for £14m in 2014 after – it is said – no other appropriate sites were available. But since then, plans for the school have been slimmed down from two-form entry (420 pupils) to one-form (210). As such, sites will now be appropriate that were discarded back in 2014, and it’s right for the ESFA to re-open the search.
It’s also contingent on Camden to do so. Camden have washed their hands of assisting in the search because they hate free schools. But under the Education Act 1996, s14, the Council has a legal duty to ensure sufficient and appropriate schools are available locally. There is no exemption for free schools or academies and Camden remains responsible.
They’ve acted as if it’s nothing to do with them. But if another site could be found for half the cost – such as, as has been noted, the Hoo building on Lyndhurst Road, which would cost £8m less than the Police Station cost – that saving could be shared between the ESFA and Camden’s schools.
An investment of £4m in Camden schools would be massive, and if invested solely in Abacus, would make it the best-funded mainstream state school in the country for 100 years. That’s a prize worth fighting for. Instead, Camden has closed its ears to the new evidence that other sites might be appropriate, and flatly ignored their legal responsibilities.