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Last Updated: Wednesday, 24 October 2007, 09:21 GMT 10:21 UK
Primary school private lease plan
By Sean Coughlan
Education reporter, BBC News

French flag
The plans for two bi-lingual schools have been contested
A state primary school in west London facing closure could have its premises leased out by the local authority for a new fee-paying school.

Peterborough school in Fulham is to close next summer in a shake-up prompted by surplus places - despite the opposition of school governors.

The council is considering leasing the school to the French government for a fee-paying, bi-lingual primary school.

It denies a local MP's claim that the plans amount to "asset stripping".

The council says the plans are still at an early stage - but would retain the site for educational use and would be part of a drive to improve school standards within the borough.

Political will

The proposal is linked to a wider plan to turn a local comprehensive, Hurlingham and Chelsea, into a school part-funded by the French government, in which pupils would be taught in English and French.

In July, council leader Stephen Greenhalgh set out a proposal saying there was "tremendous political will to partner the French government" in an initiative which would see a bi-lingual primary and secondary school in the borough.

It recommends the "creation of an Ecole feeder primary school on the Peterborough School site alongside a state primary school, similar to the Ecole de Wix project in Wandsworth."

This school could start in September 2008.

The bi-lingual Wix school, the model for the new Hammersmith school, charges fees of up to £1,600 per term for pupils in the French half of the shared school.

The council document says that 50% of the two school sites could be leased to the French government by Hammersmith and Fulham council.

"The council can offer two fantastic sites within walking distance of Parsons Green tube and New Kings Road within a very short timeframe."

Negotiations

In August, the proposals to close Peterborough school said there were "active negotiations with the French government to open a bi-lingual primary school on the Peterborough site once it becomes available".

The council says the proposals, still to be finalised, are efforts to revitalise the borough's schools - and to encourage more families to use them rather than sending children to schools in other authorities.

But the MP for Ealing, Acton and Shepherds Bush, Andy Slaughter, believes the shake-up of schools, including another merger, is about selling off assets on valuable sites rather than raising standards.

A council spokesperson rejected this, saying changes were determined by a "genuine drive to improve schools".

"Closing a school is never going to be popular - so there really has to be a very good reason."

The chairman of governors at Peterborough school, Mike Rumble, protested at a public meeting that the threat of closure was not about surplus places but about the premises which were most "saleable".

The local authority representative at the meeting "categorically denied" that it was about "capital receipts".

'Gentrify'

The local representative for the National Union of Teachers, Dennis Charman, said he did not believe the council was motivated by raising money, but that there was an ideological drive to "gentrify" schools in the borough.

While this might draw in more middle class pupils, he said, the changes did not offer much to the disadvantaged families who most needed support.

He disputed the need to close these schools - arguing that it was driven by a political agenda rather than the professional opinion of those in local education services.

And he said that Peterborough school did not have the largest number of empty places locally.

However the question of what to do about surplus school places is a growing national problem - with demographic changes threatening to close many schools.

There are more than 500,000 empty primary school places in England - with Hammersmith and Fulham having an above average level.

SEE ALSO
Bi-lingual plan to rescue school
22 Oct 07 |  Education
Primary school goes bi-lingual
17 Mar 05 |  Education
Diversity of languages is hailed
22 Sep 05 |  Education
Language exams in sharp decline
25 Aug 05 |  Education

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