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Tuesday 16 September 2014

Free School Splits Community

As a result of the coverage given by Zelo Street to the curate’s egg that is the Free Schools programme instigated by Michael “Oiky” Gove, a regular reader has brought my attention to the recent case of the Etz Chaim school in Mill Hill, and its divisive effect on the local Jewish community. Some remarkably dirty tricks appear to have been used to facilitate the school’s relocation.
Yes, "Oiky", a consequence of your policy

Much of what went on after Etz Chaim was approved as one of the first wave of Free Schools has been covered by the Evening Standard, but one article appears to be missing. It is, to no surprise at all, the most damning one where those running or supporting the school are concerned. But let us begin at the beginning, when the school opened in 2011 in temporary premises.

A permanent site – the sticking point all over the Greater London area, given property demand and therefore prices – was high on the school governors’ wish list. One location, the former Wyevale garden centre, was on land where Barnet Council owned the freehold. The owners of the centre were, of their own volition, going to close it. Barnet gave permission to build on the site in late 2011.

Residents objected. Etz Chaim applied again, and this was accepted. Residents went for another Judicial Review. The 2010 Equality Act was cited: many of those who visited the garden centre were elderly or disabled. Many of them were transported there by the Council’s own adult social services department. There was clearly a divergence of opinion. That did not excuse what came next.

Here’s what Standard readers are missing: “the school sent out a leaflet threatening local objectors with possible financial consequences ... [warning] local residents who contributed towards the costs of a second Judicial Review ... to take legal advice as they may be liable to pay the school damages ... The school’s threat ... caused one 85-year-old widow, who donated £20 to support the campaign to save the Garden Centre, to panic that the Department of Education is about to take her to court”.

Another resident asserted “As a school teacher in a local independent school for 30 years I have supported the right of parents to choose the education they wish for their children but I have never taught children to threaten those who hold opposing views in this way”. Unintended consequences, maybe, but real ones, nonetheless.

The Standard pulled their article after a barrage of complaints from Adam Dawson, who is chair of Etz Chaim’s governors, and also a barrister. Meanwhile, as my reader understands it, “the school got what it wanted, the residents lost their Garden Centre and the (mainly Jewish) objectors have been gagged with threats of being labelled anti-Semitic”. That’s the kind of outcome that serves no-one’s interests.

One wonders if Gove thought through his brave new idea first. Or maybe not.

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