Gazette letters: Business rates, Highbury Grove School, Whittington A&E and Housing Act

'No more sights like these': a vacant shop in Camden Passage

'No more sights like these': a vacant shop in Camden Passage - Credit: Archant

The government’s huge hike in business rates looks set to close our local high streets down, writes Christine Lovett, chief exec of the business improvement district.

It could mean the end of the road for small and medium-sized businesses, many of whom have been hit with crippling rent rises and now face even higher bills.

These smaller businesses are the lifeblood of our community. They are the friendly faces who have time for a chat and the most likely to employ local people, and they give our high streets a unique and interesting flavour.

So we’ve joined forces with Islington Council and Islington Chamber of Commerce to ask the government to freeze current business rates. Islington’s new figures have risen by 45 per cent – the second highest in London and fifth highest in the country.

Vacant shops, boarded up pubs and empty streets will kill any sense of community. Please sign our petition – it’s in all your favourite local shops, and online at

In response to your article about Highbury Grove’s recent Ofsted report, I would like to say that my own child, along with his many friends at HGS, has had an incredibly positive experience at the school so far, writes Sophie Hastings, parent of a student at Highbury Grove School.

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My son is in Year 8 and moved to HGS in Year 7 from Mossbourne Academy, where he was unhappy due to the ultra-strict regime which did not suit him. He said he felt “worthless” at Mossbourne; at Highbury Grove he has blossomed.

He has loved Highbury Grove since he arrived last February, was immediately made to feel welcome by children and teachers alike, and has never looked back. As a novice double bass player, he plays in the “emerge” orchestra and has a lesson once a week alongside another double bass player in his year. I have never come across such fantastic music provision in a state school or such expert and dedicated music teaching.

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In Year 7 at HGS, my son was taken on several trips – one to the Royal Albert Hall for a live performance of Gustav Holst’s The Planets, one to the British Film Institute to meet a renowned children’s author and another to the zoo. There were no cultural trips offered to him or to either of my two older children at Mossbourne.

Teaching at HGS has been of a good standard and some of it excellent – my child comes home excited by his lessons and keen to talk about what he is learning. He feels he excelling at HGS because he is happy and stimulated and the atmosphere is firm but fun.

Of course I understand there are some areas that require improvement. Not all children have had such an easy time of it; some are not doing as well as they should. But recent mock exams went better than anticipated – information that came too late for the Ofsted report – and results this summer should show real improvement. Acting head Aimee Lyall, who is very popular with staff and children and has steered the sixth form so well, has already put some very constructive measures in place to ensure all children receive the education they deserve.

Staff are engaged and supportive and my son goes to school more than willingly every day (often very early in the morning for music or football training). The report in no way reflects the school we know and love.

As a parent with a child aged 15 in Year 11 and a child aged 13 in Year 8, I wanted to write to express my support for Highbury Grove School, following reports in your paper about the difficult time the school is going through, writes Kelly Webb-Lamb, parent with children at Highbury Grove School.

The Ofsted report has come as a shock to me. Some of what is written in it rings true, but as an overall judgement it seems extremely harsh. It is because of the ethos of the school and the huge commitment and good humour of the staff that my daughter, who entered the school as a shy and nervous 11-year-old, has grown into a feisty and confident teenager with strong moral values and care for the world beyond her bubble – as have all her friends.

In particular the judgement that the teaching and learning is inadequate is completely out of kilter with the experience of both my children, who have had some excellent teachers over the years, been challenged and stretched, and definitely know more about almost everything than I did at their age. I am really pleased Aimee Lyall, who ran the sixth form (which was judged “good”) has stepped up as acting headteacher. All the students like Ms Lyall, and want to do well for her, a sentiment that is shared by many of the parents.

I think it is important for your readers and the community at large to know that, despite the problems, which I do not dispute, there are many students at the school who are happy, safe, and doing well.

I wanted to write as a parent of a Year 7 child and share my very different experience of Highbury Grove school from the damning Ofsted report, writes Helen Curtis, parent of a child at Highbury Grove School.

I know that it is hard to judge a school after only a term and a half, but I really did not recognise the school described in the report. My child has been incredibly pleased by all the opportunities offered by the school, particularly in the areas of music and sport, and only last week (before the Ofsted report came out) said he felt “lucky” to be at Highbury Grove.

When I meet my son’s teachers and look at his school work I really don’t get the sense that anything is inadequate – the opposite: it really does seem outstanding. All his friends seem equally upbeat and positive about the school. The worst outcome would be if the negative label Ofsted has placed on Highbury Grove seeps into the way the children think about this school. I have a second child who will be starting Highbury Grove in 2018 and I want him to feel excited about this.

I am not accusing Ofsted of being dishonest. It is always appropriate to try to improve the areas they mention. Focusing on improvement is never a bad thing. But to categorise the entire school as “failing” seems very inappropriate when an individual experience of the school seems so very good.

In common with many parents with children at Highbury Grove School, I was stunned by the harshness of the Ofsted report, writes Prof Andrea Sella, parent of a child at Highbury Grove.

I have a child in Year 8 who has been going to school happily, learning steadily and enjoying his time there. He loves some of his teachers and while we’ve had quibbles, we’ve been happy with the education he was receiving; the Ofsted report doesn’t alter this. Not only do I see no reason to move him, but I would recommend the school to others in the area.

That said, the Ofsted report makes clear there were systemic management issues in the school that need to be dealt with, issues that can only have been due to the leardership decisions of Tom Sherrington, who was probably the wrong man for this role.

I have a lot of confidence in the new acting head, Aimee Lyall, who is already addressing these issues. What is exciting is to feel that the school is moving into a new, more positive phase, and that, in spite of Ofsted’s brutal assessment, that morale will rise swiftly and we’ll have a great school as a result.

I am a parent at Highbury Grove, writes Eleanor Young, Highbury resident and Highbury Grove parent.

I and a large number of other parents were at the meeting on Monday and it isn’t true that “the vast majority” of parents are opposed to the academy status.

First, the majority of parents didn’t attend or express a view. I guess there were 300 people there compared with 1,200 students. Secondly the majority of parents in the room didn’t express a view. Many parents in the room actively support change.

It’s early days and maybe many people feel they don’t have enough information about this yet. But as we are not being consulted about it anyway, many of us feel the best thing to do is to look to the future and aim to preserve the many positive aspects of Highbury Grove while addressing the weaknesses caused by the previous head.

I don’t know if Cllr Caroline Russell is a parent at Highbury Grove. However, neither she nor those who are shouting loudly against academies are speaking for me when they oppose change. The Ofsted report is shocking. The issues need to be addressed quickly to get the school back on track.

I hope this will inform your reporting, which has been sensationalist up to now.

I was on my way to work on Thursday when I had a nasty fall in Crouch End, writes Mrs E Woolley, Ellement Close, Pinner.

I wish to thank all the people who came to my aid and secondly the Whittington Hospital accident and emergency department.

Although very busy and no rooms available much of the time due to severe overcrowding, the staff were wonderful, helpful and professional – and luckily I did not have to wait too long to be seen.

Despite the fact it was packed from the moment I arrived to when I left left, staff were under extreme pressure, and I was treated in the corridor on a chair for some of the tests, they did a excellent, first-class job.

During 2016, campaigners fought really hard against the Housing Act, writes Mark Still, Islington, full address supplied.

Because of this campaign, the government’s “pay to stay” policy – a tenant tax of 15 per cent on all gross household income above a £40,000 threshold – is not going to be imposed by the government. But it is still on the statute books and is therefore law.

Councils will be free to implement this policy. Labour Islington, the elected council, has stated it has no wish to bring in pay to stay, but there is a danger that if in the future another administration is elected, pay to stay could be imposed on council tenants.

In the Housing and Planning Act there are some nasty planning laws to bring in regeneration leading to gentrification on council estates, as these are known as brownfield sites under the act. This has already been done in many parts of London, but it will be much worse under the act.

Lifetime tenancies are coming to an end with maximum tenancy agreements of up to five years. If you are an existing tenant you will be able to maintain your lifetime tenancy, but this is not a rock solid agreement, as if you transfer or exchange home you will go on the new five-year tenancy. Every five years your agreement could be totally different and the rent could be much higher.

The government view is that fair rents for social tenants should really be set at 80 per cent of market rents and if this had not been challenged social tenants would be paying it.

I have checked with a very large estate agent in this area who has 700 two bedroom properties for rent on their books in Islington averaging out at £2,591pcm.

Even with a 20 per cent discount, the rent would be set at about £1,900pcm. How many working-class families could afford that in Islington?

It’s time all social tenants realise they are all actually very vulnerable to this act of Parliament that was made with the intention of destroying genuine social housing to be replaced by more profitable private housing.

All social tenants should join in with the campaigns to protect social housing or there will be none left in the not-too-distant future.

It’s also very important to unite with campaigns for genuinely affordable rents and lifetime tenancies in the private sector.

In 2016, housing campaigns got bigger; let’s make 2017 even better and build up huge campaigns to fight for decent and fair housing for all. Let’s show we are not going away.

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