The Secretary of State for Education Michael Gove seems hell-bent on making a gift of the old Ashmount School site to two private education companies, so they can open the ‘Islington Free School’ in the north of the Borough. Worryingly, the first we heard of this was when the Department for Education (DfE) published a list of new Free Schools on their website, and to our horror we saw the ‘Islington Free School’ on that list. It seems incredible to me that the DfE would approve a bid for a Free School on a major site in our Borough without even bothering to pick up the phone and ask us what we think about it. So much for localism.
So why are we so worried about this? If the DfE allow a Free School to open on that site, they will make a gift of a strategically important plot of land to these private companies.
We already had plans for that site, and by taking it from us, Michael Gove will be taking £3 million out of our finances which would have been used for repairs and improvements to our existing family of schools, and taking a plot of land on which we were planning to build 100 new homes, 80% of which would be available for social rent.
Coming hot on the heels of the announcement in the Comprehensive Spending Review that Islington is likely to face £50 million of further cuts, with our School Support Grant cut by as much as 20 per cent, this Free School debacle seems like the final insult.
We are calling on Michael Gove to see sense and put a stop to this ‘Free School’. In Islington we have 18,000 people on our housing waiting list, many of whom are living in badly overcrowded conditions. What we need most right now are more family homes, not this Free School.