Sometimes, you need to be careful what you wish for, because you just might get it.
Thus calls by the Labour MP for Lambeth South, Steve Reed OBE, for the site of the former South Norwood police station to be utilised for a new school – made in Inside Croydon last year – have been granted by that deadly duo of Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, who have announced that the site will be used for a primary free school, a symbol of a key Conservative political policy.
Education secretary Gove has adopted the Bliarite policy for academies with enthusiasm to allow him to hand over control of hundreds of publicly run state schools to private businesses, including many to Tory Party donors, although without delivering any real improvement in educational standards.
But now in Croydon, the Conservative Mayor of London and Tory education minister will be able to handover a significant chunk of public real estate to a self-appointed organisation in a free school, which will be allowed to appoint untrained teachers to supervise children’s education, and the local Labour MP is obliged to accept the move with barely a murmur of complaint.
Reed called for the police station – closed by Boris in 2012 in a cost-cutting measure that has left the borough of Croydon with just a single operational police station – to be used to help tackle the schools places crisis in the area.
According to Reed, inadequate investment in the borough’s schools has meant “thousands of local children face being taught in overcrowded schools, Portakabins, or forced to travel miles across London to find a school place”.
Croydon is the only London borough which is unable to accommodate 99 per cent of its children in its own schools or those of a neighbouring borough, according to figures from the Greater London Authority.
The council is providing 5,220 new primary school places by September next year, with £110 million funding from the ConDem government which in 2010 slashed school build grants. But according to the previous Conservative administration at Croydon Town Hall, by September 2016, there will be a short-fall of 2,475 places in the borough.
For school starters in 2013, nine schools in Croydon received more than 400 applications for sometimes as few as 30 places. Elmwood Infants received 580 applications.
Attempts at addressing the short-fall with Gove-backed free schools have not been entirely successful. As Inside Croydon reported in January, a scheme for a primary free school in Norbury, based in a disused office building without direct access to any play area for its pupils collapsed after the lead figure – a Tory councillor from Wandsworth – decided to up sticks and emigrate to Australia, leaving many local parents hoping to send their children to the school in September without a place and little notice to make alternative arrangements.
Reed might avoid political embarrassment as a Labour MP who has lobbied for a free school in his constituency: his party has reversed its policy of opposing free schools, and now backs “parent-led academies”, which sound a lot like free schools.
Announcing that South Norwood police station would now be used for a free school, a spokesman for the Mayor of London said, “Free schools are now firmly established as part of the mix for the provision of urgently needed places and we’re making good progress, matching 11 under-used public sites with groups wanting to set up new schools.
“Seven thousand three hundred more places have now been secured for young Londoners, the majority at free schools set up in response to local demand.” Such as calls from local Labour MPs…
Reed’s response to the announcement was to say that, “It is important the community supports this.” So that’s alright then.
It has been left it to one of the local Labour councillors, Wayne Lawlor, to question the suitability of the site for a school – something which the MP might have considered when intervening a year ago.
- GCSE figures put Croydon schools at bottom of their class
- Gove allows Croydon to charge children for reading lessons
- MP Reed ordered investigation of councillor emails at Lambeth
- One-fifth of an academy’s pupils “disappear” before GCSEs
Coming to Croydon
- South Norwood Arts Festival, July 5-20
- Basically Johnny Moped at Stanley Tech, July 8
- David Lean Cinema: We Are The Best!, July 10
- Croydon Folk and Blues Festival, July 12
- David Lean Cinema: Half of a Yellow Sun, July 17
- David Lean Cinema: Pantani: Accidental Death of a Cyclist, July 21
- David Lean Cinema: Tracks, July 24
- Fragile, Spread Eagle Theatre, July 24-26
- CODA’s Midsummer Night’s Dream at Wandle Park, Jul 30-Aug 2
- David Lean Cinema: Locke, July 31
- Elm Tree Cottage garden open day, Aug 10
- Norwood Society Talk: War Memorials, Sep 18
- Norwood Society Talk: From Fire Station to Theatre, Oct 16
- Norwood Society Talk: Lambeth’s Archives, Nov 20
Inside Croydon: Croydon’s only independent news source, based in the heart of the borough: 407,847 page views (Jan-Jun 2014)
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