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Saturday, 07 August 2021 12:24

New Park Crescent Academy, Margate. Planning Application Seriously Flawed

Index

Revised: 8th August. Kentonline has subsequently published a bland article on the proposal here

The planning application for the proposed Park Crescent Academy in Margate has now been published, exposing the utter poverty of the concept. The education case set out for it is almost non-existent, whilst the site is described as being ‘constricted or constrained where space is at a premium’  and is also constrained by being on two distinct levels, with the very limited recreational and sporting outdoor areas dependent on the nearby public  Dane Park Playing Fields. I have covered both these issues extensively in previous articles, most recently ‘The New No Win Park Crescent Academy’, but this article focuses on KCC's justification for the project.

Picture 1

You will find the full planning application here, published in the Kent County Council weekly planning lists for 30th July,  the consultation to run for four weeks during the summer holidays until 28th August (now extended to 8th October. The most interesting section is the Planning Statement, tucked away inside the series of documents, which sets out the rationale for the project, and reproduced here. My analysis below divides it into two sections: The Education Needs Case; and The Site and Surroundings.

It is the only one of the twelve new secondary schools in Kent and Medway, open or planned since Ebbsfleet Academy in 2013 not to have a Sixth Form, a decision clearly made because of space limitations. Coincidentally, I was also in at the birth of Ebbsfleet Academy, and received assurances at an open meeting from the then KCC Cabinet Member, that the new school would not be built on the current site as it was too small and had no room for a Sixth Form. Ebbsfleet was built there, hasn't a Sixth Form, and has struggled ever since.

My previous article also covers much of this ground, looking at the original consultation last summer but,  in KCC's view, the Consultation was owned by The Howard Trust and  KCC held no information on it (22nd February response to FOI sent to KCC), an astonishing situation. Strangely, despite this, the KCC Planning Application covers much of the same material in the same words and completely ignores the points I made in my response to the Consultation, which comprised my article. 

The Education Needs Case
In full, the relevant paragraph of the brief education needs section reads:
 
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.

With regard to the first line, there is no mention of the school population data, which shows that the total Thanet primary school roll has increased by just 62 pupils to 10,916 over the past two years according to the October 2018 and 2020 school censuses, across the seven Year Groups. Meanwhile, the overall trend is downwards, with the number of pupils in Year Six at October 2020 being 1554, up to 1622 in Year Five, then falling in each subsequent Year Group down to Year One. In previous years, there has been a significant inward migration which contributed to the numbers, but this appears to have slackened off, in parallel with elsewhere in the county, possibly because of the Brexit impact. In a previous article published in January 2020, I demonstrated that officer calculations were false in forecasting a considerable surge in secondary numbers in Thanet in future years. That September there were 89 vacancies across two Thanet N/S schools in Year Seven, with total numbers across Thanet falling by 23. The forecast from this year’s allocation data is that there will be 126 vacancies in September. Quite the reverse of a surge!  

The Commissioning Plan for Education Provision in Kent 2021-26 states that: ‘The new school will meet the demand for places in Thanet and support the reversal of an increasing trend of pupils travelling to schools in neighbouring districts for their secondary education’. It no longer refers to the strong growth in pupil numbers of previous plans, and indeed the primary school data in the same plan shows a fall in overall numbers each year from September 2020 through to 2025. It then reckons there will be a shortage of two forms of entry (2 F.E) by 2025, which does not square with the primary school data and in any case hardly supports a new 6 F.E. school. 

The problem is that there is an urgent demand for quality places, which appears not to be addressed by anyone. For without mentioning the problem, the bulk of the paragraph deals with the consequences of two Thanet non-selective schools being so unpopular with families that many choose to avoid them and send their children to school in Sandwich, and more recently as far away as Deal, whilst too many others have to send their children to a school they haven't chosen. The reasons for this are explored in my previous articles and below, but the education need is to improve the attractiveness of the two Thanet schools to families. I am afraid it is dishonest to suggest that children travelling from Thanet block some from Deal and Sandwich accessing their local schools.  As Sandwich Technology College and Goodwin Academy in Deal both give priority to local children this won’t ever happen apart from a possible few siblings. Further, both schools had vacancies in Year Seven last October, and neither is oversubscribed this year.

In short, Kent County Council’s solution to this internal problem appears to have no data whatsoever on which to justify its claim for education need. 

Apart from this one brief paragraph, the majority of ‘The ‘Education Needs Case’ relates to the history of the site, which was previously occupied by the Royal School for the Deaf and the children displaced by its closure which closed over five years ago, following a scandal, and is surely completely irrelevant to making the educational case for a new secondary school. 

So, if Park Crescent Academy takes in the proposed 180 pupils, where will they come from?
Already, according to allocation data, Hartsdown and Royal Harbour Academies have 116 Local Authority Allocations between them for September, pupils who were offered no school of their choice but have to go somewhere. This still leaves 126 empty spaces between the two at this stage, a figure which is likely to increase by September. If Park Crescent opens in 2023, it is clear that many of its new pupils would otherwise have gone to these two schools, whose loss will seriously damage their viability. Whilst both are vulnerable,  Hartsdown is particularly at risk although it is currently in receipt of new buildings and has spacious recreation areas and playing fields. Other families will switch from the Sandwich and Deal option if they are not put off by the unsuitability of the site, as explained in the next section.
 
Next: Site and Surroundings, and Conclusion

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Last modified on Saturday, 25 September 2021 23:03

5 comments

  • Comment Link Friday, 13 August 2021 19:00 posted by Emma

    Lekun may well be an experienced teacher, but clearly not a parent. Two years ago we were offered Hartsdown for our son although we hadn't applied for it. We did go and look at the school, and its GCSE performance (fourth lowest in the country) and as a result knew we could not let our enthusiastic boy attend. We therefore made alternative arrangements and although they involve a long journey daily we have never regretted doing our best for our son. The new school at Park Crescent does not look an attractive proposition as presented but may be worth the risk and many families will find it preferable to Hartsdown, whose future looks very dubious, itself another reason to avoid it.

  • Comment Link Friday, 13 August 2021 00:34 posted by Lekun S

    As an experienced Teacher who has lived in Thanet for a decade, I continue to be perplexed by so many local people's attitudes towards certain schools in the area. This is not based on fair evidence, it's just hearsay that seems to get around. Children who are willing to work hard will do well at any school in Thanet. Children who are lazy will fail to achieve their potential.A child's attitude and parental support are major factor's in achieving success. Furthermore, success is not guaranteed just because you are prepared to put your child through a lengthly journey every day to get to school in another town. PETER: So what is your solution to changing the reputation of the two schools concerned? Responsible parents will take what ever action they deem necessary to maximise their children's potential. Secondary allocations data for entry in September (above) suggest the situation is worsening.

  • Comment Link Tuesday, 10 August 2021 10:23 posted by Elizabeth T

    Someone on the Kent Online article quoted above has sneered at the concerns of local residents. I can assure you they are very real and we are starting to campaign against this terrible idea which will soon see our local roads even more jammed. PETER: I have not considered these issues as I have been addressing the educational ones, but I am sure you are right.

  • Comment Link Tuesday, 10 August 2021 10:19 posted by Emily R

    I drive three children including my own son to Sandwich Technology College every day from Margate. There is no way they or many others who can make other arrangements will accept places at Hartsdown. You eloquently and I believe accurately, describe many of the problems facing the new school,

  • Comment Link Monday, 09 August 2021 21:57 posted by Thanet Primary Headteacher

    So in your opinion was Paul Carter right or wrong when he vetoed the Park Crescent Academy proposal back in October 2019? PETER: I believe he was right to do so, but wrong in assuming that the answer was to allow Hartsdown Academy to improve of its own accord. I know it has a very difficult situation but it needs a strong, possibly exceptional, headteacher and governance to take the decisive action needed. I don't believe either of these are currently in evidence..

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