Friday, 26 April 2019 18:04

Greater choice for High Barnet school children

Written by
Ark Pioneer Principal Aishling Ryan Ark Pioneer Principal Aishling Ryan
Working together with other local primary and secondary schools and welcoming the involvement of community groups are among the key objectives of Aishling Ryan, newly-appointed principal of Barnet Ark Pioneer Academy which opens in September with its first intake of 180 pupils.

Construction of the super-size new school on the site of the former Barnet Football Club stadium at Underhill is now in its final stages.

Despite fears about traffic congestion and considerable controversy over its siting so close to Totteridge Academy and Queen Elizabeth’s Girls’ School, Ms Ryan is confident the 1,200-place academy will add to the success of local schools and will help satisfy a growing need for additional places.

She says strategies are in place to meet concerns about the choice of Underhill as the location for one of the government-inspired free schools and she has established good working relationships with both Barnet Council and other secondary heads.

The council’s latest assessment in March indicated a continuing shortfall of secondary school places in and around High Barnet and continuing evidence that local children were still taking places some distance away in Finchley and Potters Bar.

Several measures would be taken to ease potential traffic congestion, including personal visits during the summer months by Ms Aishling, or a member of her senior team, to each of the homes of the first 180 pupils during which they would discuss with parents best practice, such as walking to school or the use of public transport.

Ark Pioneer Academy would also operate an extended school day – starting at 8.25am and finishing at 4.30pm which would result in an earlier start and later finish than at Totteridge Academy.

“An extended school day is designed to encourage our pupils to take part in extra-curriculum and enrichment activities so they can develop their own interests as part of the school day. This will also allow time for extra lessons in English and maths.”

Initially the new academy, which is non-selective and co-educational, has no defined catchment area and applications are currently being processed for the first 180 places, for which there is already a waiting list.

Theresa Villiers, MP for Chipping Barnet, at Barnet Ark Pioneer Academy. From left to right, Ms Villiers, Ms Ryan, Laurie Grist, head of projects Ark schools, and Claire Barnes, chair of governors

"We are here to serve the community in and around High Barnet and we are looking forward to working with other local schools and we want to join them in strengthening still further the high standards that are being achieved.

“We are particularly keen to establish firms links with local primaries and we hope to collaborate with them in encouraging their pupils take advantage of our state-of-the art teaching facilities.”

Ms Ryan says pupils at the academy will benefit from a host of activity areas including a fully-equipped gym and sports centre, and specialist areas for arts, music, information technology and science laboratories.

These facilities will also be available for the use of local community groups, including sports clubs and dance classes, several of which have already expressed an interest.

During the planning process, the Ark Academy network promised that local organisations would have access to the new school’s facilities and Ms Ryan said she was keen to honour those undertakings.

When asked about newspaper reports that indicated some new schools in England were being built without internal sprinkler systems, Ms Ryan said she could give a personal assurance that all fire safety requirements had been met in full during the construction process.

Barnet is the fifth to be opened by the Ark Academy group of free schools.

Ms Ryan, who was appointed principal in September, was previously vice principal at the Wembley Ark Academy which opened in 2010.

“I was part of the team that took their first cohort of pupils through to university in 2017 and I bring to Barnet that spirit of fulfilment that goes with helping to establish a new school.

“All four of the Ark Academies in London are rated as outstanding by Ofsted and I hope to repeat that level of popularity here in Barnet. The Ark John Keats Academy at Enfield started with a catchment area of six miles, but that has now reduced to 0.3 miles which indicates its success.”


  • Comment Link Tuesday, 30 April 2019 12:08 posted by Local resident

    Whichever way they try to dress this up, having a new school a matter of yards from an existing one that is thriving, in an area that already suffers with horrendous traffic congestion is a completely bonkers idea.

    It's well documented that the lack of school places affects different parts of the borough, hence kids will be shipped (driven in cars) in from outside High Barnet to fill places.

    The proposed 'strategy' of 'discussing best practice such as walking to school or using public transport' is, as we all know, unfortunately firmly rooted in fantasy.

    In the long list of nonsensical decisions made by Barnet Council, this ranks right up there.

  • Comment Link Wednesday, 01 May 2019 16:58 posted by Nick de Naeyer

    Choice is all well and good, but we need investment in quality. There's enough choice in this part of the Borough already. Why have we got a 'school' built for Hendon students in Barnet?

  • Comment Link Wednesday, 01 May 2019 16:58 posted by Linda Barnett Goldenstein

    Ending at 4.30 won't do anything other than increase the traffic on May's Lane at a time when it is already congested.

  • Comment Link Wednesday, 01 May 2019 16:58 posted by Elizabeth Burling

    How about funding all the other schools properly instead?

  • Comment Link Wednesday, 01 May 2019 16:59 posted by Estelle Calfe

    TTA pupils are often in school early and stay late, due to the extra learning in place for children in preparation for GCSEs. Anyway, as a very proud TTA mum I'm just putting this here...

  • Comment Link Wednesday, 01 May 2019 16:59 posted by Pam Whittingham Webb

    I don’t have time to do a detailed takedown of this, tempting though it is. But the idea that people in High Barnet send their children to schools in Potters Bar or Finchley because of a shortage of places in Barnet is .....laughable. But hey, there’s a test for Ark : will it reduce the number of children going to Alice Owens or Finchley Catholic?

  • Comment Link Thursday, 02 May 2019 09:29 posted by Angry local resident.

    I'm glad the woman in the photo is smiling, because local residents are not.
    As already mentioned, we have excellent schools close by who could benefit with more financial support, and a huge school developed in an area which already suffers from pollution and congestion.
    Getting to work from neighbouring roads is already a trial.
    This school should have been built somewhere more suitable.

    Its a shocking decision by all concerned in the planning process.

  • Comment Link Thursday, 23 May 2019 06:53 posted by JB

    I wholeheartedly agree.
    Whoever thought it a good idea to build a school on the site of the old football stadium is beyond me.
    The extra traffic will only make a bad situation worse. When schools are closed for holidays, the area flows well but when pupils return, it can be a nightmare.
    As previously mentioned, surely the money spent would have been better utilised by funding our current schools.
    Having written the above, I hope that I am proved wrong and wish the school success.


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