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New Archway free school head ‘too busy’ for controversy

The former Ashmount School building The former Ashmount School building

Thursday, June 19, 2014
3:19 PM

The headteacher of a controversial free school set to open in September is not concerned by the negative media attention the project has received, she has said.

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Laura BirkettLaura Birkett

Whitehall Park School, which is set to replace the former Ashmount Primary School building in Hornsey Rise, has been at the centre of a row between Islington Council and Michael Gove, as well as between residents.

It is still not decided whether half of the site will be used by the town hall for housing, or if the two-form entry school – set to cost the government more than £10million – will be given the whole plot.

There have also been doubts raised over whether the timetable for the school’s building plans are realistic and whether there is high enough demand for places to justify its existence.

“I’m obviously aware of the news stories but I don’t need to worry about that,” said new head Laura Birkett.

“My job as a headteacher is to make sure that when the first children come through the door they have the best possible teaching staff and learning environment.

Focus

“You’re so busy as a head and so focused on the children. You have to deal with distractions at any school – but the reason we’re here is for the kids.”

Over the last few weeks Ms Birkett has been visiting some of the more than 40 children who have confirmed their place at Whitehall Park at their nurseries and at homes in Islington, Camden, Hackney and Harringey.

The school has space for 56 reception children in its two classes and is still advert- ising places online – despite the Department for Education, which has financed the school, saying it was oversubscribed in January.

But the head, who helped spearhead St John The Baptist School in Hackney to the cusp of an outstanding Ofsted report, said this was perfectly normal.

“In my experience from working in state schools this is normal for this time of year,” she said. “There are families out there still who are not aware that you have to apply for a reception place so early and there are others who have not yet decided or are waiting before they accept an offer.”

Two assistant heads and a reception teacher have 
already been appointed at the school, and Ms Birkett said that a number of parents were interested in being governors and forming a parent teacher association.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be part of a school starting from scratch,” she said.

“The advantage of being a free is that we can take all the best bits of what other Islington schools are doing, but we also have the freedom to pick and choose and try new teaching methods.”

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