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Education chiefs promise action on schools crisis
Haringey education chiefs last week pledged to consult primary school governors across Muswell Hill in a bid to provide extra places for local children in September.

The announcement, by Ian Bailey, assistant director for education, came at a packed meeting organised by angry parents who have been denied places at oversubscribed schools. Mr Bailey expressed regret that he had been forced to offer 35 Muswell Hill children places at schools miles from their homes on the other side of the borough, explaining that the council would consult school governors to see what could be done about providing up to two extra classrooms.

He explained: "The number of places that we publish, once we have started allocating places, we are not allowed to change. But it may be that there are exceptional circumstances here... We have been having conversations with heads and will be continuing to talk to heads and also consulting governing bodies."

Councillor Judy Bax, executive member of education, added: "There is a commitment to search and see what we can do for the best. "Ms Bax told parents: "I am really sorry that you find yourself in this situation - it's very upsetting. In the education office this has been a major problem for a while. We are looking very carefully and we are listening to everything you say. There are all sorts of issues that we need to look at and discuss."

She explained that one of the difficulties facing Haringey is that there are enough school places to go round across the borough. "However this problem is to do with locality and the particular places where there is pressure. Because it varies so much year to year where those pressure points are, it is very difficult to anticipate where it's going to work out... But we do want people walking to school and we do want a clean environment for our children."

Barbara Roche, local Labour MP, chaired the meeting and explained that her daughter is a former pupil at Rhodes Avenue School. She said: "This is the worst year I have seen in Muswell Hill for pressure on school places. We need extra schools in the long term, but now we need extra classrooms."

She urged the education department to produce a plan of action within the month: "This has got to be time limited because if I were one of the parents in this room I would be becoming progressively anxious. We do need some certainty."

The Liberal Democrat councillor, Lynn Featherstone, also urged the council to act swiftly, insisting that it was unacceptable for so many children to be denied the chance to attend their local school.

When asked about how the extra classrooms would be funded, Mr Bailey replied: "We are tying not to make funding an obstacle. If we do it, we will fund it."

Jan Doust, head of social inclusion team, also promised to review each case individually to make sure that "we have got it right".

The meeting, at Muswell Hill Methodist Church last Thursday (May 13), heard presentations from three parents arguing the group's case. Karen Ackerman, who lives 0.3 miles from Muswell Hill School and 0.4 miles from Rhodes Avenue School where her son Nathan attends the nursery, said she had been offered a place at a school 1.5 miles away.

She explained the importance of a sense of community for children saying: "All we want is for our children to walk to school with their friends."

Alison Holt, who lives 0.3 miles from Muswell Hill school and 0.4 miles from Rhodes Avenue, will have to drive her son Jack to Bounds Green School 1.4 miles away. She argued that the government and the council was actively campaigning for children to walk to school as a way of keeping fit and to discourage parents from clogging the roads with cars.

She insisted: "The council is adding to an already acute traffic problem." Karen Lowe, who lives 0.39 miles from Muswell Hill School, has been offered a place for her son Sam at Campsbourne School, 1.5 miles away.

She told the meeting that Haringey had been forced to take action when similar situations had arisen in recent years. Weston Park School in Crouch End had provided an extra classroom in 1999 when a large store-room was cleared out and turned into a classroom. Ten years ago, Rokesley School, also in Crouch End, enlarged from three to four forms due to pressure on places. Tetherdown School, in Muswell Hill, managed to provide extra classes twice in the 1980s. And at Hillel School, a Jewish school in Southgate, they have added an extra, temporary class for next year following an unusually high number of applications.

Ms Lowe concluded: "Clearly, it can be done." Among the ideas proposed are to use three classrooms that have been recently vacated by a hearing impaired school on Rhodes Avenue School premises. Another proposal is an extra class at Tetherdown School which is already planning to expand to two-form entry in 2007 on empty land nearby.

A temporary Portakabin could be erected in time for September, it was suggested. The Treehouse Trust, which is building a school for autistic children on part of the Tetherdown site, has already erected a temporary structure for September.

The meeting was also told that there is room for a temporary structure in the grounds of Coldfall School and possibly Muswell Hill School.

Liz Crane, who founded the pressure group after her daughter Sophie was offered a place a Bounds Green School, despite living less than half a mile from three Muswell Hill schools, said: "We are extremely pleased at the success of the meeting. The response from Haringey was positive and constructive. Our group continues to go from strength to strength as more parents get involved. We hope the council will act swiftly to solve this crisis as it is certainly not an issue that will go away."

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MHSCG – Parents fighting for places in Muswell Hill primary schools