Croydon’s desperate lack of school places has led to a clash between the council and residents and parents in Forestdale.
Croydon has expanded five primary schools, opened a new school and put emergency “bulge” classes into a further 13 schools.
The council should have seen this coming. The children requiring nursery places in September were, after all, born at least three years ago. The impact of the economic slowdown – with fewer people leaving Croydon through the lack of available mortgages and the decline of the housing market – has been notable for longer still.
Smaller schools, with one-form entry, are often attractive to parents, with an intimate atmosphere where all children are known to staff, and a supportive and more cohesive community can be created. Council officials like bigger schools because they have the lower costs brought by economies of scale. Lower unit costs are even more important at times of austerity.
The emergency expansions are reducing the number of smaller Croydon schools. Some heads and board of governors are resisting expansion, much to the frustration of local residents who might be denied a school place as a consequence. In Selsdon and Forestdale, as their local schools resisted expansion, parents found their children only offered places in New Addington.
The small one-form entry school at Forestdale was rated by OFSTED this month as “good” with inspectors saying, “Pupils do well in reading, writing and mathematics regardless of their academic ability or starting points.”
Parents fear that this precious performance will be compromised by a doubling in the size of the school. The protesting parents who think that the school’s strength comes from its small size say “…its small community spirit is the not-so-secret ingredient that makes the school what it is. Please do not dislocate our contented community school.”
The Forestdale parents feel that they have been ridden roughshod by Tim Pollard, the Croydon councillor in charge of the borough’s schools, and his emergency expansion measures. They fear that the introduction of a bulge class is the first step to turning the school into a two-form entry.
At a Croydon Council meeting, in between being shouted down by Mayor Eddy Arram, Forestdale resident and grandparent Esme Atkinson said, “The process of introducing a two-form entry has resulted in a lot of ill-feeling” and that the consultation process was “quite appalling with the council failing to exhibit a duty of care.”
Pollard explained that expansions were vital as demand for reception class places had spiked by 25 per cent in just two years in Croydon as a whole, with the economic crisis leading families “to stay in smaller houses”. He sees growing demand for school places for many years to come.
Kat Pond, the organiser of a document put to Croydon Council by objecting parents and residents, told Inside Croydon that she disliked the way that expansion had been treated as “a done deal” by the council during the consultation. Parents had found the consultation neither “timely nor considerate”.
Parents say that posted public notices on the consultation were “indecipherable”.
The paper to the council from objecting parents mocked some of the merits proposed. “Big is beautiful” is not an argument that has convinced the Forestdale parents.
The parents’ say that the council’s case is “repetitive and uses jargon waffle, eg ‘broader base for pupil tracking’. What does this really mean? And ‘larger peer group for children to draw upon’. And ‘greater pool of parents for PTA support and volunteers to come into school’.”
Other concerns raised have included the loss of green space at the school site, the prospective use of paths owned by a management company, and car parking, where there have already been difficulties with double parking in Pixton Way and some off-road driving by parents on to steep grass banks opposite the school.
At the council meeting, Pollard said that the original plans for the school when the estate was being built in the 1960s and 1970s were for a two-form entry. The council has decided to proceed with its plans despite the parents’ objections because of “the requirement for the Council to meet its statutory duty to provide sufficient school places”.
The next – likely hopeless – battle for the residents will be over planning permission for the doubling in the size of the school.
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