Ofsted investigates ‘illegal’ Stamford Hill primary school where blaze wrecked basement
PUBLISHED: 09:30 25 September 2020 | UPDATED: 09:47 25 September 2020
Ofsted is investigating an “illegal” school in Stamford Hill where a fire broke out last week.
The London Fire Brigade is also investigating the cause of the fire, which destroyed part of the basement of the three-storey building in Amhurst Park.
Neighbours allege the primary school first opened in December, and that despite Hackney Council’s refusal of planning permission in July, its use for educational purposes continued after the coronavirus lockdown.
According to the London Fire Brigade, 67 children and 16 adults evacuated the blazing building on September 15 before its crews arrived at the scene just after 1.30pm.
There were no reports of any injuries from the blaze, which fire crews brought under control within an hour, before dealing with dampening down the smoke.
An unregistered school is defined as a setting that is operating as an independent school, without registration, and it is a criminal offence to operate an unregistered independent school in England.
A spokesperson for the council told the Gazette that “the setting at 69 Amhurst Park is an unregistered educational setting (UES) known to us and Ofsted”.
They added: “It is not registered as a school site. The council will consider this incident as part of our UES protocol and any actions following this process will need to be followed up by the relevant partners.
“The Fire Brigade’s safety unit may also advise on any safety issues directly with the setting.”
According to Ofsted, children who are educated in UES are “potentially at risk”, because of the lack of formal external oversight over safeguarding, health and safety and the quality of education provided.
A planning application to change the building’s use from residential to educational was submitted to the council in January, but was rejected in July.
Reasons given were the “overbearing” design, loss of housing and the “unacceptable adverse impact” a school would have had on its neighbours.
Permission to excavate to extend the basement - where the fire broke out - into the front and rear garden was also refused as part of the planning application.
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SAM Planning Services submitted the planning application on behalf of Mr Geldzahler to relocate the Jewish faith primary school, Talmud Torah London Ltd, from a site in Lordship Park.
A spokesperson from SAM told the Gazette he was not aware the school in Amhurst Park is currently being used, and denied it had been operating since December.
“It wasn’t a retrospective planning application,” he said.
“I’m not aware it is operating as a school, and from our system it is not.
“It is a single residential property.”
He continued: “As you might be aware, the Jewish community does not use public schools so much.
“We use private schools, and in Hackney the council didn’t allocate any land for private schools. We have 20,000 kids who need to go to school.
“The loss of family dwelling was given as a reason for rejection [of the planning application], but when you are talking about 60 or 80 kids versus one family, that outweighs it.”
He insists the site is “suitable for a school” and plans to resubmit a new planning application soon.
A spokesperson for Ofsted said: “We take the safety of children very seriously and can confirm that we are investigating this setting.
“Where schools are operating illegally, we will not hesitate to take legal action if necessary.”
A governor at the school, Alexander Halpert, denied it has been operating illegally.
He claims the fire broke out because of an electrical problem, which was not the school’s fault.
He told the Gazette: “The fire was small and quickly contained by the fire brigade. The reason for the huge response by the fire brigade in sending out four engines was because of the location of the school on Amhurst Park which also has a number of tower blocks at that postcode.
“The firemen were very impressed with how the school handled the incident, and how all the fire safety precautions and protocols were in place and followed flawlessly. The school was evacuated quickly and no injuries occurred.”
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