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Tuesday, 13 January 2015 00:00

Good Morning Britain – Primary School Admissions

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I was interviewed on ITV Good Morning Britain this morning about the pressures on primary school places. The issue was precipitated by a paper from the Local Government Association attacking government lack of provision and planning for school places, and I contributed to the debate continuing on Radio Kent through the day.

The claim may well be true but, the timing of this paper was extremely insensitive (deliberately so?), just two days before the national closing date for primary school admission and guaranteed to worry many parents whose applications for school places have already been submitted.  The government response referred to ‘scaremongering’, and whilst I disagree with much of the rest of their case, sadly I think this word is correct.

Yes there are and will be problems ahead for many local families,  and the main problem areas for 2014 entry in Kent and Medway were described previously in these pages. However, the fact remains that in Kent in 2014, a high 85% of children were allocated their first choice school and just 5% were offered none of their choices. Medway’s figures were very similar at 86% and 5%. However, Kent anticipates an additional 15,000 school places will be needed over the next five years, and it is not yet clear where all these will come from.  

The politics of education are getting more unpleasant as we head towards the General Election,....

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.

Read 2356 times Last modified on Wednesday, 21 January 2015 09:52

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