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We are alternative to ‘pay or pray’, says school ready to move into former police station

Police station in Rosslyn Hill has stood empty for the six years since being closed by Boris Johnson

26 June, 2019 — By Helen Chapman

THE headteacher of a primary school looking to move into the old Hampstead police station has responded to a barrage of objections by insisting the area needs a secular school as an alternative to “pay or pray options”.

Abacus Belsize Primary School is currently based in temporary accommodation in King’s Cross and has been wanting to move into the Rosslyn Hill building since 2014.

It has stood empty since Boris Johnson closed down several police stations during his time as London Mayor six years ago.

The Department for Education later bought the site for £14million but has yet to secure planning consent for the new use. Scaled-down plans were submitted last month, but the proposals triggered a new wave of objections.

Vicki Briody, headteacher at Abacus, whose pupils are bussed to King’s Cross every day, said in a statement: “The need to create a secular community school for Belsize was established by local families 11 years ago. There is not a single non-faith state primary school in the whole of our area – it was on the basis of both choice and need that the Department for Education gave us the go-ahead to open Abacus in 2013.”

Several opponents have raised concerns about school-run traffic, although Abacus have pledged to be a “car-free” school with wardens ready to challenge parents driving their children to school.

The New Journal reported how New End Primary School objected to the plans earlier this month, while governors at Fitzjohn’s School have also raised concerns.

Danielle Litterick, chair of the governing body at Fitzjohn’s, said the chosen site was in Hampstead, not Belsize Park, where the original campaign had begun.

“While this proposal may have been well-intentioned, the site now identified for the school is not actually in the underserved area,” she said. “It is in Hampstead, where there are already two non-faith-based schools, providing 90 places per year to the local community.”

Ms Litterick added that Abacus’s arrival would “cannibalise the student rolls of both Fitzjohn’s and New End, leading to diminishing populations and consequent funding problems at both.”

The council rejected the original plans for a 420-place school at the police station in 2016, but the new application says Abacus will halve its proposed intake, scrap a rooftop playground, preserve all trees and remove the “large-scale rear extension”.

Officials are currently reviewing the proposals but they will almost certainly be ultimately ruled on by a committee of elected councillors.

Ms Briody, whose school was rated “outstanding” in 2015 by Ofsted and is considered to be one of the top-five schools in Camden, according to the application, added: “The reality of life before Abacus was families paid for a private education, worshipped locally and hoped to get a faith school place, relocated out of the area, were offered a school place on the Islington border or Westminster, or faced no offer at all.”

She added: ”Abacus has been the local alternative to the ‘pay or pray’ options for seven years and is an increasingly popular and successful one.”

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