‘Terrible shame’: Falling pupil numbers leave ‘wonderful’ primary school on brink of closure

St Dominic’s Catholic Primary School. Image: Google

Town Hall bosses are likely to agree the closure of a “wonderful” primary school that withstood wartime evacuation but has suffered from falling pupil numbers.

Highly regarded St Dominic’s Catholic Primary School, rated good by Ofsted, has been earmarked because of its high number of unfilled places.

If Camden’s cabinet this week approves the decision to close the doors of the school, it will formally shut in August.

The school opened in 1869 and was run by Dominican nuns before being evacuated during World War Two – with pupils sent to Luton, Kettering and Cornwall to escape the Blitz.

Council bosses blame the large drop in primary school pupils on government funding cuts, the cost-of-living crisis forcing families out of central London, and Camden’s low birth rate.

Schools are funded according to the number of pupils.

The council said other London boroughs, including Islington, Barnet, Brent and Westminster, are facing similar problems.

Camden’s cabinet member for best start for children and families said it was clear the Gospel Oak school and staff are “play an important part in the community, offering vital links for children and families”.

There is genuine concern as to the future of the school and the impact a closure could have on children.

Chair of governors Margaret Harvey said the drop in numbers meant they “have tried to keep costs down as much as possible”.

She told parents: “Were the school to try to bring in extra income, such as hall lettings, car boot sales and the like, we think it is highly unlikely that these would generate the level of income required to offset the fall in per pupil funding each year.”

The school has 30 spaces for new pupils each year and a capacity of 210 places.

It had 121 pupils on its roll and 89 vacant places last autumn, when a consultation about its future started.

Just 12 parents put it as their first preference for children starting school in September 2022.

Since the consultation started, the number of pupils has dropped below 80.

In January, the governing body published a statutory notice asking for views. Only four people responded, including two neighbours who were upset by the closure.

One person asked: “Can I be informed how to get a refund for my child’s uniform costs?”

The council pledged to help families find other schools, including provision of Catholic education.

If Camden’s cabinet agrees the plan, it will also work with staff to find them new jobs and pledged that “all opportunities for redeployment will be exhausted”.

In their last visit in 2018, Ofsted inspectors said the pupils’ behaviour was “delightful” and they were “keen to learn, happy and work cooperatively together”.

Parent Kirsty McDonagh, whose petition to stop any closure was signed by 928 people, said: “Most of us parents have moved our children to other schools now.

“It is a terrible shame and, I believe, a big mistake.”

Carlton Primary school was also a victim of falling rolls and had to merge with Rhyl Primary in 2021.

Somers Town school St Alysious also shut because of a drop in numbers.

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