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Saturday, 05 September 2020 18:23

The New No Win Park Crescent Academy, Thanet

See Update Article with Statement by KCC. 

Kent County Council has now applied for Planning Permission for the controversial new secondary school in Thanet, exposing further problems with the project.

The background to the new school briefly is that, first of all, KCC overestimated the number of secondary aged children coming through the system in Thanet to justify commissioning a new school. The Council then backtracked, with the 2020-2024 Kent Schools Commissioning Plan explaining (p137) how they could comfortably manage the small long term pupil number deficit by expanding two of the District’s six non-selective schools.

Park Crescent Academy

The real problem is that two of the Thanet schools are so unpopular with some families to the extent that 189 children were allocated to them in March who never applied to either. Others were offered places in Sandwich and Deal schools, some miles away. The full background to the controversy is explained here. When the new school opens, with a planned intake of 180 children, at least one of these schools is likely to become unviable. As a result, KCC’s introduction to the Planning Permission Consultation is quite simply dishonest, as explained below.

One of the problems with the new school, now to be called Park Crescent Academy after one of the adjacent roads, is that the site on which it is to be built is very cramped as can be seen from the projection above, and explained below. The new academy will replace the residential Royal School for the Deaf which was closed down in 2015, see below. One of the consequences of the limited space, set out below, is that the school will have no sixth form.

The No Win Academy
I have explored the issues behind the decision to build the new school in two previous articles. The first looks at the decision to veto the whole project by the then Leader of Kent County Council, Paul Carter back in October 2019, on the fairly obvious grounds that the additional places are not necessary, although this would have continued to force families to send their children to two unpopular schools. The second considers the consequences of the government decision in April by the government’s Schools Minister to overrule the veto and reinstate the project, reportedly with the encouragement of KCC officers. The planning permission consultation understandably ignores these matters, but now exposes the nature of the very confined site for the new school, which is another critical problem for the project.
 
Kent County Council’s latest claim 
The Council has tried several alternative justifications for the two contradictory solutions to the problems with school provision in Thanet. The latest, contained in the Public Consultation document is:  
The new school is required to meet the growth in the secondary school aged population and demand for future housing as well as addressing the more recent change in travel to school patterns where a growing number of Thanet children now travel to Sandwich for their Secondary education. As demand for secondary school places in Sandwich and Deal puts further pressure on secondary places from September 2023, it is hoped that the new school in Thanet will enable children to attend school more locally thereby allowing children in Deal and Sandwich to access their local schools’. 

There is no mention that this claim directly contradicts the entry on Page 137 of Kent’s own Commissioning Plan for Thanet secondary schools. This shows there will be no shortage of places when the expansions of two good local schools, Ursuline Academy and King Ethelbert's School, takes place. There is no mention in the quotation that the growing demand for secondary school places in Sandwich and Deal is from families trying to avoid Hartsdown Academy and Royal Harbour Academy where there is plenty of room for them. A school bus now runs to Sandwich Technology College from as far away as Birchington. The distance these pupils are prepared to travel is an indictment of the perceived quality of the current provision. Certainly, the final sentence in the quotation above is completely untrue and dishonest. For, according to the Commissioning Plan there is already room for all Thanet children to attend school locally and children in Deal and Sandwich will always be able to access their local schools, by virtue of living nearest! 

The Plan
The pictures in this article and the plan below clearly indicate the problems with this plan, or I suspect any other design, on this cramped space set inside an established residential area, on two distinct levels and adjacent to a graveyard. A visit to the school website introductory page unveils another set of mock-up photographs which fully illustrate the problems described below, peopled only by non-existent sixth form students strolling or sitting, presumably because younger pupils would need to be represented as more active and there is no room for this.  
 The site is divided in two plateaus by a landscaped slope from southwest to northeast. This divide constitutes a major constraint within the site…The south boundary is dominated by a retaining wall supporting an almost 4m drop from the rear of the properties on Byron Road down to the level of the site. The solution to the latter unattractive feature, so close up to the main building has been to focus the view from most classrooms in the opposite direction 'to provide uninterrupted views to the sports field and the surrounding area'. However, it will create a most unpleasant corridor between the two, evident in the introductory picture and below.
Park Crescent Wall
The need to accommodate 900 pupils requires the school to extend to three storeys and is horribly reminiscent of the problems that dogged Kent’s other new school built with such constraints on a restricted site, Ebbsfleet Academy. However, 'The east wing, (closer to the south site boundary) is comprised of two storeys. This reduced height combined with the level drop from Byron Avenue reduces the impact of the new school on the adjacent properties', yet another constraint. 
It requires someone with more expertise than me in school buildings, to analyse the internal structure but, on the basis of the rest of the plan, there is likely to be considerable economy of space. There is no mention of how all areas of the new school, with its split levels and three/two storey arrangement, will be readily accessible to disabled children.
 
Pedestrian access is from either of the two roads adjacent to the site. However, the nature of the building design is such that in both cases there has to be a considerable walk for pedestrians to reach either entrance to the buildings, as shown in the access plan in the proposal. We must await further details of the configuration of Reception to see how this is managed. 
 
Plan of Park Crescent Academy Plan
 
 
Outside
The lower plateau of the site will accommodate the outdoor grass pitches and the multi-use games area. These areas as well as the sports hall are likely to be open for after-school hours community use. The location of the outdoor pitches, away from the boundaries have been carefully considered to limit the impact on the adjacent residential properties’. Once again the restricted site constrains the plan, in this case by minimising available recreation and sporting space. 

The introduction projection picture shows there is just one full-sized and one small grass games pitch outside, together with three or four hard games courts (and the high wall running all along the north side of the site). The sports hall plan shows it has capacity for one large indoor games pitch, which can be sub-divided into four badminton courts. Quite simply, the total is not acceptable as sufficient sports provision for a six form entry school. The irony is that at Hartsdown Academy, the school most at risk from the opening of Park Crescent, there is a large area of grassed playing field.

Otherwise, there appear to be just two small hard-surfaced areas one at each end of the building. One of these can be seen below with what appear to be sixth form students engaged in conversation, although they won't be part of the school! However, the alternative of showing younger pupils playing would give the game away about the very limited space!
Park Crescent Students
 
 
But there are to be 96 racks for cycles as a response to government priorities, certainly an overprovision for the next few years (with 3% of secondary aged children travelling to school by bicycle nationally) and probably forever! 
 
Sixth Form Studies
The reason there is no sixth form planned is quite simply there is no room for one on the site. Currently of the six Kent secondary schools currently with no sixth form, two are in Thanet. As a result of the new school arriving all-through opportunities for pupils, limited already, will decrease further comparative to the rest of the county. For no other Kent District has more than one such school, whilst Thanet will have three. 
 
Mystery
The site plan shows four areas inside the school boundary, but not designated for any purpose. One is the hydrotherapy pool and gym complex,  another is residential accommodation, both left over from the Royal School for The Deaf. The other two contain unspecified buildings. There is no mention of these anywhere in the plan. What will happen to these areas?
 
Royal School for the Deaf, Margate
You will find some background to the school, here, although it does not mention that it was founded in London in 1792, set up a branch in Margate in 1876 and moved there entirely in 1905, so pupils could benefit from the sea air. It was a residential school, run by the John Townsend Trust who also ran the associated Westgate College on the same site for young people over the age of 16. At the time of the closure the Trust was in debt to the tune of £650,000 but the trigger for the closure was a finding by the Care Quality Commission of abuse at Westgate College, described by the Commission as 'shocking examples of institutionalised failings and abuse'. This saw the College closed down immediately, the Trust went into administration shortly afterwards and within a month, the whole school was closed in December 2015, leaving the premises empty ever since, but owned by KCC.  
Finally
I have been criticised for my analysis of problems at the two heavily undersubscribed schools, but the nature of these problems are in one sense irrelevant. The bottom line is that too many Thanet families will do whatever is possible to avoid them, otherwise, there would be no need for a new school. Hartsdown has plenty of room to expand and Royal Harbour is planned to do so in the short term in the event of no new school. Meanwhile, King Ethelbert and St George’s CofE, two of the other three local schools, are the second and third most oversubscribed non-selective schools in the county Applicants to King Ethelbert successful on distance grounds all live less than a mile from the school, which takes in Ursuline College, but stops well short of Harstdown Academy, the three schools all set in a line.  EKC, the rapidly expanding Further Education College, has sensed the local weaknesses and opened a Junior College at Broadstairs, 'offering students in Years 10 and 11 a high-quality Study Programme that incorporates an academic curriculum alongside additional technical pathways'. 
 
'Inspired by the aesthetic and textures of the seaside and chalk cliffs, the architectural language aims to provide a contemporary and timeless look. The simplicity of the external design of the buildings aims to create a simple architectural language that offers a robust outlook allowing them to have a strong presence and identity within the site'.

 

Last modified on Monday, 21 September 2020 11:46

1 comment

  • Comment Link Sunday, 06 September 2020 23:51 posted by Phillip G

    Peter, you have uncovered an astonishing story of failure upon failure, rounded off by a wholly impractical plan for a new school. How do you do it, and how can KCC live with it? PETER, Thank you for the compliment, but all the facts I have quoted have been in the open for anyone to see. KCC are in a bind and it was easiest to shut their eyes to what was always a seriously flawed solution to an intractable problem.

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