the Labour Shadow Education claiming in the debate on Radio Kent that KCC cannot build any new primary schools to ease the pressure and that there are too many empty spaces in our Free Schools, which are wrong in principle.
Whilst he is technically correct in that there is a presumption that any new schools will be academies, or Free or Voluntary Aided Schools, KCC can commission such schools to be built with Basic Needs Funding and indeed has commissioned seven new primary academies to help meet demand for places, all to open in September 2015. These are at Kings Hill, Holborough Lakes, Leybourne Chase, East Folkestone, Thistle Hill (Isle of Sheppey), Knights Park (Tunbridge Wells), and Finberry (Ashford), as explained elsewhere on this website. Unfortunately, these are all to meet new housing developments and do nothing to address the problems outlined in my previous articles.
I completely agree that the principle of Free Schools is wrong, with inappropriate schools being provided at public expense in places that are not a priority, and too many failing for diverse reasons. However, the fact remains that at present, all of Kent’s five established Free Schools are successful and fully subscribed. I don’t yet know the situation with regard to the new Jubilee Free School in Maidstone that opened in September. The two proposed mainstream Free Schools in the pipeline fit in with the pressure points in Kent and hence its priorities, both with an excellent host school. You will find details of all these here.
The government response to the LGO Paper was to assert that they have been “on top of the issue from day one”. Unfortunately, the Free School programme has diverted much needed funds from capital needs in maintained schools and academies, the latter also being financially advantaged. KCC believes it has been disadvantaged in the capital programme in any case, and so capital expenditure on maintained schools is suffering disproportionately, as many can testify, with the quality of education suffering as a consequence, with too many overcrowded and temporary classrooms, some of the latter eating into playground space. The problems at Claremont and Bishops Down Primary schools in Tunbridge Wells show the consequences of ill thought through expansion (try a search on the website of numerous articles of past mistakes with these two schools). I fear that the government’s “mission of giving every child the chance to go to a good local school”, restated in their response, remains a pipe-dream and wholly unrealistic.