New primary school in St Albans won’t open this year

THE NEW primary school intended for St Albans city centre will not open in September after the Department for Education rejected a proposal from a free school consortium.

The news is a blow to many in the area who had hoped the school on Hatfield Road would be welcoming its first pupils to the two-form entry school from September this year.

But for many others it will provide much-needed breathing space for the project which has sped along at an alarming pace despite the many problems that have been identified.

Proposals to locate the school in the University of Hertfordshire’s School of Law in Hatfield Road have attracted as much criticism as they have praise and just weeks after the county council gave the green light to purchase the property the project has suffered its first setback as it was hoped that the funding that would come with a free school would create the extra school places needed.

A consortium had hoped to open a free school led by a former St Albans headteacher, believed to be Linda Crawley the former head at Aboyne Lodge, but the county council confirmed on Wednesday that the Department for Education had been unwilling to agree the proposal for this year’s programme although they wish to reconsider it for 2012.

Cllr Chris White, who has supported proposals to open the new school on Hatfield Road, said the process had been complex and two free school applications that he knew of had been rejected.

He added: “County have not been very forthcoming about the details and groups, like the Albany Montessori Free School Group and the consortium, wishing to open free schools, have constantly had the goal posts moved during the process of their application.

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“There are costs to this: the costs in terms of education are great and so too are the actual costs of sticking extra children into makeshift classrooms across the district.”

But Cllr White and a spokesperson for the county council say that this is not the end for the school, which will come to St Albans and hopefully be teaching pupils by the end of 2012.

Cllrs Rod Perks and Melvyn Teare predicted catastrophe when they spoke with the Herts Advertiser last month (February 17), saying that the sheer pace of the scheme was alarming.

Proposals to open the primary school were first revealed in December but plans to purchase the School of Law were deliberately kept quiet for fear that public discussion would increase the price of the site.

When presented at Cabinet on February 14, plans revealed that the school would look to purchase the adjoining land behind the museum and, if the county was to run the school, they proposed to meet the criteria for access to green space by using the lower field of Bernards Heath, just under a mile away.

Those connected to the museum and the field were shocked to hear of the county’s plans, which they heard about at the 11th hour.

Members of the campaign group, A New Museum for St Albans, described the proposal to take the land behind the museum as a “land grab” that threatened to undermine the recent successes of the museum and greatly restrict any future progress.

On the letters page in this week’s paper, the group outline why the land cannot be bought and mention the restrictions placed on use of the land by Earl Spencer when he gave the land to the council.

But a spokesperson for the district council said there were further acceptable uses for the land as set out by Earl Spencer. She said: “In 1898 Earl Spencer gave the entire site of the Museum of St Albans in Hatfield Road to St Albans City and District Council, to be held in trust for use as a museum. In addition the council later received a letter from Earl Spencer consenting to the site being used for technical education or general education purposes.”

A report about the school on Hatfield Road will be presented to the county’s education panel next week.

Blow to Montessori free school plans – see page two