Parents in Bearsted, Grove Green and Madginford have had good news this weekend about primary school places in the local area. St John’s CE Primary School has written to parents announcing their agreement, in principle, to expand the school to two forms of entry from September 2013. This will include an additional year 1 class from next September. Paul Carter, local member for Maidstone Rural North and Leader of Kent County Council said “This is excellent news for our local communities. I am delighted to hear that the Governors of St John’s School have agreed to expand and are now consulting with parents and the community. This will make a huge difference for many local families in the area, and I am grateful to the school for working closely with us to reach this agreement. Kent County Council will now provide the necessary capital funding to make this happen for September next year subject, of course, to the statutory consultation.” This follows an extensive campaign by local parents to press for additional primary school places in the area served by Madginford Park Infant school, Thurnham CofE Infants School and St John's Primary School, all serving the children of Bearsted. The background to the issues is described at (1) and (2) below, and also in an information article. Remarkably, the agreement in principle includes an additional Year 1 Class for September 2013, which would cater for those children currently without a local school place.
Up to this point, St John's had strongly resisted any expansion, wishing to preserve the nature of this small school, but pressure on places from families in Grove Park has become irresistible. Two factors in this were the major new housing development at the disused Meridian TV Studios which appears to have been overlooked in place planning, and the discovery that the original plans for the Grove Park development included two primary schools, one of which appears to have been lost on the way. I established that 100 Reception children in urban Maidstone had been offered none of their three choices, in spite of statements by KCC that there was no problem and I had my figures wrong. However, KCC has now changed its mind and accepted the truth of the arguments, following a vigorous campaign by the Bearsted School Allocation Trouble Campaign. The Campaign secured the second successful education e-petition to deliver a debate of the full Kent County Council on 19th July, and also the support of KCC Leader Paul Carter, who attended several appeals at the three schools as a local Member on behalf of constituents. Not surprisingly there were no successful appeals at the first two schools because of both Infant Class Legislation and there being no room for development of these two Infant Schools with intakes of 90 children. The situation at St John's was different both because the larger grounds had room to expand and also because Governors made mistakes in allocating places and had to admit another four children who were wrongly left out. I thought that because of the errors and the breach of Infant Class Legislation, the Independent Appeal Panel might be persuaded to admit another class, but this was not to be and again no appeals were successful.
This leaves some 15 Grove Green children with a journey of some two and a half miles to another primary school out of the local community, that had in total 43 children allocated to it who hadn't applied for the school. There are also additional children in other parts of Bearsted without their preferred schools. The decision 'in principle' to provide an additional class at St John's in Year 1 could be regarded as a logical solution to the dilemma set by Infant Class Legislation which requires either an additional class or additional teacher to be provided in the September following the large class being created, but it did require goodwill by both school and Local Authority to commit the resources at this early stage.
The debate on Thursday was initially to argue for additional places to be created in the area, and of course this has now been granted for 2013 entry. This doesn't help those children who have lost out during the current year, so I suspect the nature of the debate will change to try and secure places for them at St John's at the earliest opportunity to minimise disruption for them and also for the schools who will have to accept them as temporary pupils. On the current evidence I wouldn't put it past them, and would encourage other communities who have been let down by poor planning for school places to follow their example.