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Displaying items by tag: Gravesend Reporter

The following article appeared in the first edition of the new "The Reporter" newspaper, reflecting the pressure on the newspaper industry as it replaces the old established Gravesend Reporter and the Dartford Times.

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Kent County Council has made a largely successful commitment in recent years to improve the quality of the school building stock following many ‘drought’ years when this aspect of our children’s education was neglected. Projects such as: the ‘Old Style’ academies - 10 brand new luxury schools brought into being (including Leigh in Dartford and Longfield); the six PFI project schools; and the first eleven schools completed under the now defunct Building Schools for the Future programme (including Northfleet Girls, Northfleet Technology, St Johns and Thamesview in Gravesend), have resulted in over a quarter of Kent’s secondary schools being completely replaced.  The Special School Review saw many of Kent’s Special Schools rebuilt or refurbished (including Ifield in Gravesend), and many readers will be aware of major primary school rebuilds, and new schools in the area (including Manor Community at Swanscombe) that have transformed the learning of so many of our children. Kent has also been working on a schedule to reduce major maintenance issues, which saw a reduction in the backlog from £147 million to £98 million over the past four years.

However, all this has come to a juddering halt with government cuts in education spending, some of which is retargeted at other priorities. Seven ‘Old style’ Academies (including Wilmington and Orchards in Swanley) are waiting a government review which will probably provide them with budget new  buildings and KCC has gone to court to try and recover the BSF programme for the remainder of Gravesham’s secondary schools (or more likely the millions of pounds lost in preparation works.  You will find further details of these projects at www.kentadvice.co.uk.

Meanwhile, all schools are grappling with a swingeing 80% cut in their own grants for the repair, maintenance and improvement of buildings and provision of ICT from 1 April 2011. Whilst this is a hammer blow, worst affected will be the ten schools which lost out under BSF  (including Gravesend Grammar, Gravesend Girls, Meopham and St George’s). For they will all have cut back on their maintenance and building plans expecting that BSF would solve their premises problems, but now there is no money to carry out essential repairs and improvements. A typical secondary school would have been awarded some £120,000 for this work last year, but now sees this reduced to £24,000, inevitably leading to safety concerns. This comes the week after compensation was awarded to families whose children were taking examinations in the school hall at Minster College (now The Sheppey Academy) when central heating ducts fell on them. Fortunately, there were no serious injuries or deaths, but this will certainly not be the last such incident now that schools have been deprived of sufficient funds to carry out repairs.

All this leaves KCC with a backlog of maintenance problems, currently totalling £90 million, its main hope of shrinking this being to say goodbye to schools who are choosing to become academies. Some of these will be leaving because increased budgets may give them the opportunity to resolve these issues, but when all secondaries have become academies, the pain will need to be shared equally once again.

Published in Newspaper Articles

The desperate shortage of primary school places in Gravesham is starkly illustrated this year when, after allocation of Primary Reception class places in March, there were no vacancies in any school in Northfleet, with many children being offered places out of the Borough at a school in Swanscombe. Only three schools had vacancies in urban Gravesend (North of the A2), between them taking in 40 children who did not apply for any of them but were turned away from all three of their preferred schools. Of course the situation will have changed since then with continued movement of families, but my impression from enquiries and information I receive, is that there is still movement into the area so the problems may be even worse.

I warned KCC in December 2008 of the coming problems in both primary and secondary schools in Gravesham, but the written reply from the KCC Cabinet Member at the time dismissed my concerns. They were however very real and an internal KCC Report the following July forecast an 11% shortfall in Infant Reception class places in Gravesham for September 2011, the largest deficit of the only three Districts in Kent with a shortage of places (Dartford is next with 8%).  This enormous shortfall is further masked by the distribution of places, with a considerable surplus of empty spaces in rural Gravesham.

Kent’s response so far has just been to reinstate places at two Gravesend schools that had previously shrunk in size because of their limited popularity with families, but there appear no plans to increase numbers at any of those schools that are oversubscribed. The county believes this is just a temporary blip with numbers beginning to fall again in a couple of years, but data I have from KCC itself for preschool children from birth age upwards shows no such decline. I appreciate that the influx of Eastern European children into the town could be temporary, but the forecast appears to assume that there will be no net movement into the town, in contrast to the pattern of recent years which has also seen considerable immigration from London. Now is the time to face up to this problem and look to expand some of the more popular schools permanently before disaster strikes.

I do appreciate it is difficult to forecast school numbers, and government places Local Authorities under intense pressure to keep vacant spaces to a minimum. However, Kent is a large county and Gravesham children are suffering because of the large number of vacancies in schools in other parts of the county, which inhibits any expansion. However in Tunbridge Wells, the third oversubscribed District (also 8% shortfall), an additional 50 places were created this summer in very popular schools. Our local representatives must respond to the urgent need to create new primary school places where they are needed before additional housing is agreed, otherwise we really shall have a crisis.

Published in Newspaper Articles