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Friday, 15 June 2012 00:00

Primary School Places in Chatham

Medway Council is proposing a new three form entry primary school on the site of the old Chatham South secondary school, after the birth rate in Chatham shows a 21% increase since 2005, coupled with increasing migration into the area probably as a result of cheaper housing costs. This follows the proposal to close two primary schools in Chatham just two yeas ago because of falling numbers! One of those schools, Ridge Meadow, did in fact close but the other, St John's Infant School, was saved after a decision by the Schools Adjudicator overruled Medway Council's proposal. A further proposed closure of St Peter's Infant School in Rochester was dropped. For 2012 entry, St John's is full, St Peter's has just two empty spaces, and there are just 17 places vacant in the whole of Chatham, all at Luton Infants School. 

This all shows that school place forecasting is a difficult science, and Medway Council acknowledges it can do better...

 

 in the paper setting out the proposals. As is clear in other items below, Kent County Council has had similar problems! The proposal for a new school is based on use of the current two storey buildings at Chatham South, with adaptions for primary school use, which does not appear ideal. A 630 place primary school is too large, in my opinion, and that of many others, and clearly will not possess the "family" feel that provides an appropriate environment for small children.  There are still plenty of examples of other primary schools sited in old premises built for older age pupils (often the pre-war Elementary Schools), which have to work very hard to achieve a suitable environment for the children. Further, government is opposed to new schools being operated by the Local Authority, and so this would in all likelihood be established as an academy (possibly a Free School). The most likely option is that it becomes part of the controversial Bishop of Rochester Academy, offering an all through 4-18 school for some. This would not come into being until at least September 2014, so in the meantime, Medway Council is proposing the temporary expansion of Greenvale Infant School from an intake of 60 up to 120, as there is space available on site for additional temporary classrooms. The academy problem rears its head again, as these children would normally go on to Glencoe Junior School, but this is being taken over by the Fort Pitt Academy for September, which is opposed to accepting additional children without  additional permanent accommodation. However there will be spaces at the Chatham South site primary academy to admit these children when they reach junior school age so the expectation is that they will transfer. However, it is not clear what happens to the temporary additional classes already working through  Glencoe if the Fort Pitt Trust is not willing for them to transfer to Glencoe. 

One clear winner in all of this should be Chatham Grammar School for Boys which is likely to take over the vacated Sports Hall at the Chatham South site, and some outside spaces.

The Council quotes the  Education White Paper of 2010 in its documents which states: "Even in areas without significant demographic growth, we want local authorities to focus on supplying enough good places rather than removing surplus places". Parents in Medway will surely echo this theme as the Local Authority is responsible for some of the lowest primary school standards in the country, with 30% of Medway's primary schools having failed an OFSTED inspection in the last two years. A converted secondary school, more temporary classrooms and children having to face moves of school, or offers of schools outside their local area, are hardly the recipe for such good schools, but with finances in such a straitjacket, this is probably the best that can be achieved at present.

As I observed on Radio Kent this morning, one can feel sorry fro place planners who are on a hiding to nothing, but one should feel even more sorry for the families who cannot get a place in a good local school, or even more so, those who move into the area mid-year, who are likely not to be offered a suitable school as all are full.  

Last modified on Friday, 05 December 2014 23:08

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