Sadly, I understand that there were no successful appeals at Madginford Park Infant School or Thurnham CofE Infant School, as was to be expected with Infant Class Legislation applying.
St Paul's Infant School which has offered places to most of the displaced Bearsted children, but suffers from being several miles away, has recently been awarded a GOOD OFSTED Report, which may ease some minds.
(PREVIOUSLY) The Bearsted School Allocation Trouble action group have collected the 1000 signatures necessary on an e-petition, to force Kent County Council to hold a full debate on the shortage of Reception class places in the Bearsted area. This will take place at the County Council meeting on 19th July. This is a rare example of parents coming together to tackle admission issuesr. So often the problem is that parents believe they are in competition with each other - in cases such as this if parents don't combine, then everyone is the loser. Otherwise, parents are often afraid to put their heads over the parapet, in case they are picked on and lose their place at appeal, and are happy to sit back and let someone else take the flack. Once again, with Infant Class Legislation, usually the only solution is to try and create an extra class or section of a class, as an appeal panel is not in a position to offer one or two places.
So, what has been achieved so far? Initially, I was told on Radio Kent that my statistics for urban Maidstone were wrong, and that there were places. I have been shown to be right - there aren't. Then the campaign team was told that there actually just a handful of local children affected; they have evidence this claim is wrong. In other words, we have established that the forecasting and planning for numbers was flawed. Paul Carter, Leader of Kent County Council, and local councillor for part of this area, has taken up the case, recognising that there is indeed a shortage of places and is exploring possible solutions to the problem, recognising that this is not just a one year issue. The Campaign has been successful in attracting publicity for their concerns on BBC SE, Radio Kent, the Kent Messenger, Kent on Sunday, and this website, below.
Now, the Team has discovered that when the Grove Green estate was built, plans were made for two primary schools to serve it. Only one was ever built, hence the problems of 2012. Kent County Council's Commissioning Plan for School provision appears to identify few problems in the area (although it sees all primary schools being full in 2014!), and indeed believes pupil rolls will fall after 2014. The statement that all primary schools in the area will be full in terms of total rolls in 2014 hides a fundamental flaw that permeates other parts of the Plan as well. What that actually means is that as there will be vacancies in the junior age groups, if the schools are technically fully it is because there are more infant class children than there are places, although there is no school to accommodate the extras. This appears to be a problem for at least the next three years, and is forecast to be a shortfall of 30 in 2014. How confident can one be over forecasting that failed to spot the problem this year?
The Plan makes no mention of the nearly 200 additional houses being built on the old Maidstone TV Studio site; one wonders if the potential purchasers are being told there are no schools for their children! Are these factored into the projected 2014 shortage? Presumably informing parents is the responsibility of the developers, otherwise they may be guilty of providing misinformation.
At the heart of the problem appears to be St John's Church of England Primary School, which recently became an academy, placing it outside the influence of KCC. As this story unfolds, one can see exactly why it chose to take that route. St John's has an intake of 30 children, with 11 out of the 16 governors being church appointees (including just 2 parents who are in touch with local concerns- normal schools are likely to have around six or more parent governors). The school is reported to have ample grounds to provide space to cater for additional children.
In one sense, the fact that St John's is a Church of England School is an irrelevance, as it is the only school that serves its local community of Grove Green. In another it is central to the issue, for although the school website makes no reference to any responsibility within the local community it was built to serve, it surely has a Christian responsibility for these local families without a local school, especially as it has the capacity to expand, either temporarily or permanently. However, the headteacher, in a letter to parents, confirms the Governors' position that the school is unwilling (not unable!) to serve this local community by admitting another class, but is willing to take in just three additional children as a gesture (although how that fits with Infant Class Legislation is a mystery).
Whilst this is a problem created by the academy principle of removing local accountability, is it perhaps one that can be resolved by the Diocese of Canterbury, which clearly has oversight of the school through its majority on the Governing Body? Here is an opportunity for it to demonstrate pastoral responsibility to ensure that a community school serves its local community, rather than settle, as it appears to be doing, for a comfortable life.