Pooles Park reprieve puts another Islington school at risk of closure warn town hall bosses

Low school rolls mean schools in jeopardy

By Julia Gregory, Local Democracy Reporter

Islington Town Hall
Photo: Islington Council

Town hall bosses are warning families another Islington primary school could face closure because there are not enough children to fill the places after the school they selected got a reprieve.

It comes after Pooles Park primary in Finsbury Park got an eleventh hour reprieve – due to the government asking an academy to take over because it had an inadequate Ofsted rating recently.

However this unusual step was because of the academic rating, rather than because of the risk of closure due to low pupil numbers.

The Bridge Trust Academy was picked by the Department of Education to take over.

The school’s head teacher Greg Crawford has stepped down with immediate effect.

In a letter to parents he praised the “dedicated staff, parents and wonderful pupils.”

He told them: “Together you have all made this school a very special place.”

Parents who campaigned to save their school have welcomed their school’s survival but the council accused the Department of Education of undermining its efforts to ensure quality education at financially viable schools.

A spokesman said the government’s decision to appoint an academy sponsor for Pooles Park “is disappointing and undermines our commitment to ensure every child in Islington has an excellent education at a good, financially viable school.”

He said the “difficult decision” of shutting the doors at Pooles Park ” would have supported the future of neighbouring schools which are all rated “good” by Ofsted and face similar problems with surplus places.

“The closure would have improved their ability to deliver an excellent education to all their pupils, including those transferred from Pooles Park, while reducing their surplus places and improving their financial stability.”

He said this means another school could face closure.

“The decision taken by the DfE means there will still be too many school places locally, which means these schools will continue to not be funded properly. The decision will now force us to consider the closure of another good local school.”

The council said: “The DfE’s actions have compromised the council’s statutory duty, and moral responsibility, to ensure children can access an excellent education.”

Some other primary schools in the Hornsey education area, which includes Pooles Park, have high vacancy rates between 36 per cent to 40 per cent.

Pooles Park parents said they were disappointed by the council’s response to the school’s survival and said they felt town hall bosses saw it as “a foregone conclusion that the school was going to close”.

Education bosses are likely to present further recommendations to senior politicians.

In April they discussed Phase 2 of the council’s education organisation plan and agreed a recommendation behind closed doors to “further reduce the surplus capacity in Islington’s primary schools.”

The equalities impact assessment was also exempt, so the public cannot read it.

In the public cover paper, the council described how ten schools were in deficit and school income in Islington had dropped form £11.7m in 2018/19 to £8.3m at the end of the 2021/22 financial year.

Education bosses warned “it is becoming increasingly difficult for schools to remain financially viable when pupil numbers fall” because schools get funding based on pupil numbers.

The amount depends on children’s needs, but averages £5,500 per pupil.

Last October, the council sounded a warning that London was facing 84,384 empty desks – with 84 per cent in primary schools alone.

Nearly one in five, or 18 per cent of, reception places in 47 Islington primaries are unfilled and secondaries had a surplus of nealry 1,000 places, or 14 per cent of their capacity.

It comes as there were 300 fewer Islington births in 2019/20.

The council pledged to “only consider school closure or amalgamation as a last resort and following any formal consultation” and put children at the centre of its decisions.

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