Here we go again !
If there is one issue dominating local and increasingly national politics it is the shortage of school places and the radical reforms being introduced by Michael Gove , the best Secretary of State for Education since Margaret Thatcher .
Although there is a brief respite this year for children due to enter Primary School at age 5 this coming September due to a blip on the birth rate , from September 2014 Barnet, like most local Councils will have to enable more school places to be created.
The Gove reforms allowing the creation of Free Schools and the conversion of successful Local Authority schools into Academies are increasingly reaping benefits for Barnet parents . Most Barnet Secondary Schools have converted to Academies but so far only two primary schools.
One of those Primaries that has become an Academy is Grasvernor Infants in Underhill , the Borough's smallest school that has several times resisted attempts by Barnet Council to close it as totally uneconomic. Indeed its Governor's decision to go for Academy status is no doubt partially influenced by a desire to prevent Barnet Council from closing it in the future, not to mention that Academies do not have any Local Education Authority appointed Governors . Indeed it has become increasingly difficult to sustain long term LEA Governors at that school , several having received an indifferent welcome and raising eyebrows at the alleged practise at the Governors meetings of ordering in Pizzas and opening bottles of wine and going on till half past ten at night !
The sooner all Barnet Schools opt of LEA control and we can wind up the activities of the Education Department at North London Business Park, with the resultant savings to Barnet Council tax payers , the better. I have long advocated the abolition of the Education Authority role for Town Halls as it is entirely synonymous with the "One size fits all approach " which has lead to so many young people across the Country being failed by the school system . At least in Barnet we have always had a fairly light touch from the Education Authority and successive Conservative Administrations have encouraged a diversity of schools , maintained , Voluntary aided and Grammar amongst them .
However it seems to me that every time the Community tries to add to the diversity of schools available for parents in Barnet attempts are made by the NIMBY (Not in my back yard) element to prevent progress.
In my view new schools should be opened slap bang in the middle of residential areas . That is where the demand is and it encourages residents to use and appreciate their local schools. I am entirely pro motorist but would make it a criminal offence for parents to drive their children to school . I and probably the vast majority of my generation were never driven to school , we walked or took the bus. Among the excuses I have been presented with are that it is not save for their precious darlings to walk the streets of Barnet . Well the latest crime figures show another welcome reduction in violent crime and of course Barnet is one of the safest Boroughs in London. The number of random child killings in the UK is dreadful , about one child per year is killed by a stranger , and tragic and appalling as every child killing is , this is the same level as the 1950s !
The suggestion that somehow the streets are awash with paedophiles on the prowl looking to kidnap children and that the only answer is that they need to be driven everywhere in huge 4 by 4s by women with only a vague sense of the rules of the road is absurd.
The suggestion that the Avanti House School should move to the Broadfield area of Edgware should be welcomed with open arms . This successful school run by a Hindu foundation and currently located off the Harrow side of the Edgware Road wants to expand but is already faced by a well organised group of local residents who fear that somehow their area will be ruined by the schools arrival .
Well I have news for the good folk of Edgware , the area is changing and has changed dramatically over the last few years and one of those most welcome changes is the influx of a new community of middle class , professional families from an Asian , particularly Indian background. This Community is well behaved , law abiding and ambitious for its' children hence the demand for the original establishment of the Avanti School and now for its' expansion .
We have a successful history in Barnet of welcoming new schools both faith based and secular across the Borough . However whereas the secular Archer Academy in East Finchley received little opposition to its' planning proposals on the disused Stanley Road playing fields , the faith based schools seemed to have had a harder struggle . The opposition to the Jewish Cross Community School ( JCOSS) in East Barnet was vicious at times and yet it was being sited on an existing school site and the outrageous and over the top objections to the conversion of the closed down garden centre in Daws Lane to the new Etz Chaim Jewish School wasted thousands of pounds of tax payers in pointless and ultimately unsuccessful Court cases. Fortunately the Greek Orthodox based school St Andrew the Apostle, due to open on the North London Business Park site in October has yet to attract the NIMBY brigade.
JCOSS is going from strength to strength and has not brought East Barnet to a halt and work on Etz Chaim goes on a pace. There is actually less traffic in Daws Lane and it is far easier to park with Etz Chaim operating in temporary Council owned premises next door to the new buildings and the doom and gloom mongers have been proved wrong .
So it will be with Avanti .
Is it me or are the usual NIMBY objections to any development spiced up in the case of these schools by a dose of old fashioned racism and anti semitism ? I would have hoped that the type of objection I received from one so called Community activist when Akiva Primary School applied to rebuild its' facilities "These people are ruining Finchley " "What people ? " I asked "The Jews" she replied , were long gone .
I welcome all new schools to Barnet whether Free Schools or Academies, secular or Faith based ( about time we had proposals for a Muslim School ) or even private . I would dance with joy if we could persuade the wonderful Michael Gove to allow new Grammar Schools !!