Friday, 08 March 2019 16:18

Concerns re new academy school

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Ark Pioneer Academy, built on the site of the Underhill football stadium, opens in September Ark Pioneer Academy, built on the site of the Underhill football stadium, opens in September
Ark Pioneer Academy, High Barnet’s new secondary school opening in September, has started holding drop in sessions for potential parents and pupils – heightening the debate about its impact on other nearby schools.

Panellists at the Barnet Society’s Spring Forum, Barnet Beyond Brexit (7.3.2019), were unanimous in their view that while a new secondary school was needed for the Borough of Barnet, the former football stadium at Underhill was the wrong site.

Chris Fairbairn, principal of Totteridge Academy, which is only 600 metres away along Barnet Lane, said he was naturally concerned that the government was opening a new academy school so close to an existing and rapidly-improving secondary school which was not yet full.

Violet Walker, head teacher at Queen Elizabeth’s Girls’ School – which is also only a short walk away from Underhill – agreed that the location of the Ark Academy, which would offer a total of 1,200 places, was “unfortunate” when the greatest need for additional places was in areas such as Hendon and Colindale.

Theresa Villiers, MP for Chipping Barnet, explained that she had always opposed the construction of the new academy because it was not in the “right place”.

...opposed the construction of the new academy because it was
not in the “right place”...

“It should have been in the west of the borough, and not Underhill, but I believe Totteridge Academy and QE Girls’ will continue to thrive.

“They are both such great schools, and they will thrive, thanks to the inspirational leadership of the two heads, Chris and Violet.”

Ark Pioneer Academy’s first principal is Aishling Ryan and she has started meeting potential parents and pupils at a series of drop in sessions being held in Dollis Valley, New Barnet and High Barnet.

Robin Bishop welcoming the panel to the Barnet Society’s spring forum, Barnet Beyond Brexit.  From left to right, Cali Ibrahim, Councillor Ross Houston, Richard Knox-Johnston, Theresa Villiers, MP, Bob Burstow, Violet Walker and Chris FairbairnUnderhill is the fifth Ark Pioneer Academy to be established in North London – This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. –  and it opens in September offering 180 places for its founder cohort of year seven pupils in what Ms Ryan says will be first class facilities with a rigorous academic curriculum and strong discipline.

Robin Bishop, chair of the Barnet Society, welcomed panellists and the audience to the Spring Forum at Christ Church.

A question on the impact of the new academy on local schools dominated much of the discussion on High Barnet’s future prospects for education and training.

Mrs Walker acknowledged that the borough needed more school places but because Ark Pioneer Academy was a mixed school, she did not think it would have much impact on QE Girls’ “as long as our results are good”.

QE Girls’ had been oversubscribed for the last two to three yeas and had increased its annual intake from 180 to 196 pupils to “help with this bulge” and currently there were 183 girls on the waiting list.

Mr Fairbairn said Totteridge Academy’s annual intake of pupils had risen from 70 to 140 at present, but the school was not yet full, although he was confident about its future prospects.

He appealed to prospective parents to visit Totteridge Academy, advice that was backed by another panellist, Bob Burstow, secretary of the Barnet Town Team, who has spent a life time in education as a teacher and lecturer.

He said the Ark Academy chain did seem to be city orientated and he was not sure about its appeal in the suburbs.

Ark did have an inspirational website, but he thought parents would be well advised to take Mr Fairbairn’s advice and visit Totteridge Academy to see for themselves what was on offer.

Barnet Councillor Ross Houston, formerly Labour’s spokesman on housing, agreed with the other panellists that the provision of an Ark Academy would meet a demand but was in the wrong part of the borough.

He regretted the fact that siting the academy at Underhill was a decision taken by the government in which Barnet Council had played no role.

He regretted the fact that siting the academy at Underhill was a decision taken by the government in which Barnet Council had played no role.

In response to questions about employment prospects for young people, the forum was given details on future apprenticeships and jobs at two major development projects – the new Premier Inn to be constructed on the site of the former Barnet cattle market and 100-place care home to built on the Marie Foster site in Wood Street.

Cali Ibrahim, Barnet Council’s senior employment and skills officer and a London apprenticeship ambassador, said the provision of apprenticeships in construction work was a condition of planning approval.

He would be working with Jobcentre Plus to make sure that as many local people as possible secured of the 50 full time jobs at the new Premier Inn and the 70 full time jobs at the Signature Senior Lifestyle care home. Workers would be paid the living wage and there would be no zero hours contracts.

If Whalebones is redeveloped with housing it would be a terrible loss...

Mr Ibrahim said the council would do all it could to support bids that were being made on behalf of the shopping centres at High Barnet and North Finchley for a grant of from £5 million to £10 million from the government’s newly announced Future High Streets Fund.

Gail Laser, founder of Love Barnet, appealed to traders and businesses to come forward with ideas as applications for assistance had to be submitted to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government by March 22.

She suggested that pupils at QE Girls’ and Totteridge Academy might like to come up with suggestions as to how High Barnet town centre could become more appealing to young people – an idea that both Mrs Walker and Mr Fairbairn accepted with alacrity.

Mr Bishop led the debate on the society’s campaign to protect the Green Belt – a cause that Ms Villiers said had her full support.

“I believe we must build more homes to give our young people somewhere to live but I think we can do that without encroaching on the green belt land around High Barnet.”

In response to a question by Jenny Remfry about the plans to build over 150 homes on farmland at the Whalebones green space between Wood Street and Barnet Hospital, Ms Villiers said she remained totally opposed to the development.

“If Whalebones is redeveloped with housing it would be a terrible loss. It is a unique green space and to find agricultural fields in the middle of a London borough contributes so much to our neighbourhood.”

She was supported by the seventh panellist, Richard Knox-Johnston, chair of the London Green Belt Council and south-east chair of the Council for the Preservation of Rural England.

Because of its proximity to Barnet Hospital, affordable homes at Whalebones would be a real gain...

He said that as the Whalebones estate was in a conservation area there was no justification whatever for it to be redeveloped. He urged local councillors to stand up for the protection of both the green belt and conservation areas. Even when planning inspectors might advise otherwise, local councillors had the final decision.

Councillor Houston said the plans for Whalebones were not as bad as some recent redevelopment proposals because the developers were offering some benefits in return, including public access to parkland.

What most concerned him was the developer’s promise that 40 per cent of the new homes would be affordable.  Because of its proximity to Barnet Hospital, affordable homes at Whalebones would be a real gain for the area as they could house NHS workers, but these undertaking were not always honoured, and the number of affordable homes delivered had not been more than around 26 per cent in recent housing projects.

A full report of the Barnet Beyond Brexit Spring Forum will be published in the next quarterly edition of the Barnet Society’s newsletter.




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  • Comment Link Friday, 08 March 2019 21:28 posted by JP

    If Teresa Villiers really objected to the Ark Acadamy why did she not do more to stop it? Her party is in government and controls the council. Yet she acts as if it is nothing to do with her. It is the policies of her goverment which have resulted in the Ark Academy being built. Take some responsibility or campaign against these government policies.

  • Comment Link Monday, 11 March 2019 12:49 posted by Nick de Naeyer

    To say that Barnet Council had no say over the plans is wrong. I was at the planning meeting when they were told it was in the wrong place, told it was too big, told it would adversely affect local schools, local transport, pollution levels and educational standards. There were overwhelming objections to the plans.
    They chose to ignore that and passed the plans.

  • Comment Link Tuesday, 18 June 2019 14:33 posted by P Fleming

    Re: Ark Pioneer Academy. What happen to the promised changes to the local roads to accommodate the increase in cars to the school?

    Underhill for example due to cars permitted to park outside the flats at top of the hill is regularly blocked by volume of buses/cars trying to pass. This causes vehicles to be stopped from turning into the road resulting in traffic jams. What will happen in September?

  • Comment Link Thursday, 20 June 2019 09:34 posted by Local resident

    Strange that how, after the event, everyone declares they were opposed to the Ark Academy being built. Where was the campaigning from Theresa Villiers, for example?

    She is outspoken about Whalebones but I don't recall any such public declarations when Barnet FC was being demolished and the new school built.

    Could it be that issues affecting 'upper Barnet' are more important to some people?


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