‘Salami-slicing approach’: Row erupts over Islington Council’s school closure plan

Montem Primary School is facing closure. Image: Google

Opposition councillors in Islington have called in a controversial Town Hall proposal to close a school, criticising it as “poorly” done.

Islington Council has faced criticism over its proposal to merge two Hornsey schools, which would effectively shut Montem Primary School as pupils would transfer over to Duncombe Primary.

Town Hall cited falling pupil numbers caused by high rents and Brexit as a reason for the proposal, with schools relying on funding based on the number of pupils.

Now a group of opposition councillors has taken a stand against the council’s plan and called in the proposal, which will be discussed at the children’s services scrutiny committee on 26 February.

Leader of the opposition, Green Party and Highbury ward councillor Benali Hamdache, said: “We’re pretty concerned about the process that the council is taking right now.

“Individual schools are being shut down, a kind of a salami-slicing approach, when we know the number with the student numbers is across the borough.”

Leader of Islington Council Kaya Comer-Schwartz said the opposition call-in is “disappointing” as Town Hall has worked “tirelessly” to exhaust all options to tackle falling pupil numbers.

She said she was “confident this will be shown when it is heard at the committee next week.”

The process hasn’t “fully considered” the impact on Drayton Park School in Highbury, which is part of a federation with Montem, with the two schools sharing administrative and back office staff, Hamdache said.

Amalgamation of Montem and Duncombe would “close down that federation without much consideration and without the consultation of Drayton Park School”, he argued.

Hamdache, who called in the decision with independent councillors Asima Shaikh (Finsbury Park) and Matt Nathan (Clerkenwell), urged Town Hall to pause the next stage of the process to allow a “better, holistic approach to the crisis in student numbers.”

He said the current process has been “done quite poorly.”

Parents, teachers and trade unions said they “didn’t feel very listened to”, Hamdache continued.

He said parents were concerned whether the “very high quality” provision of SEN (Special Education Needs) for children with autism and disabilities that existed at Montem would be replicated at Duncombe because strains in the borough.

With Pooles Park School previously listed for closure, which was since revoked due to government involvement, and a proposal to close Blessed Sacrament Primary School,

Hamdache said he felt the proposal isn’t addressing the borough-wide “problem” of falling pupil numbers.

With a Labour-majority in the Town Hall, the council has been able to put through decisions “unchallenged” for a long time, Hamdache said.

“This is the first time a decision has been called in in Islington for over a decade”, he said.

“I think it’s an important moment for local democracy where finally big decisions like this are being exposed to more scrutiny, which is only a good thing.”

Comer Schwartz said the Labour-run council is “committed to giving our young people the best possible start in life, and that includes a first-class education.”

“Councils across London, including Islington, are dealing with an excess of spaces in schools the housing crisis, Brexit and low birth rates but the Government’s ideological decision to issue an academy order for Pooles Park School has harmed our plan for this and means that we now need to look at other solutions to tackle this issue”, she continued.

“Our council has looked at the situation across the borough, analysing all possible solutions and impacts on children, in particular those with SEND, and we believe the amalgamation of Duncombe and Montem is the best way forward to bring the best of both these good schools together.”