GENE BRODIE, our education correspondent, reports on the surprising reasoning given by Whitehall to block expansion plans around College Green
It’s official: according to the Department for Education, there is no school places crisis in Croydon.
That was the reason given yesterday by Tory Education Secretary Nicky Morgan’s DfE for refusing Croydon College’s application to open a free school on their central Croydon site.
It wasn’t because the idea of Croydon College running a secondary school on top of their current responsibilities is crap (which it is).
It wasn’t because of the poor (if improving, slowly) educational record of Croydon College.
The reason given by the DfE officials was “there is not a strong case of need for a new school in Central Croydon up to 2018/19 and beyond”. This, of course, flies in the face of the evidence, most of it valid, used to justify the development of all sorts of new secondary establishments elsewhere in the borough, from building on Metropolitan Open Land at the Arena, to pushing through with a neo-grammar school in the south of the borough.
Croydon College announced the decision on its website yesterday evening.
“We have just been informed by the Department for Education (DfE) that the proposed New Croydon Academy has not been approved to open because there is not a strong case of need for a new school in Central Croydon up to 2018/19 and beyond.
“The DfE’s data shows that there is not a sufficient shortfall of schools places in our proposed location to warrant a new school. Any shortfall that exists should be met by the free school provision in the pipeline and expansion of existing provision.
“We thank everyone who gave their support to this proposal.”
Among those who supported the proposal – “unequivocally”, he said in a letter – was the former Tory MP for Croydon South, Tricky Dicky Ottaway. Though with Tricky Dicky’s abilities with numbers, as he used to show when submitting his MP expenses claims, maybe he managed to inflate the demand for such a school, too.
As we reported on Inside Croydon nearly a year ago, the New Croydon Academy (as it was called) proposal seemed heavy on platitudes and light on hard detail. Croydon College’s own educational performance, among its various vocational courses in catering and hair-dressing, had seen its last two Ofsted inspections report “requires improvement” (2013) and “good” (2014).
Even that “good” Ofsted report damned Croydon College with faint praise, as the inspectors included a number of worrying caveats, such as…
“Whilst improving in most areas of the college, attendance rates are low and punctuality remains poor in a small number of subjects”.
“In 2012/13, too few students aged 16 to 18 on level 3 courses completed their qualification successfully”.
“Lapses in behaviour disrupt a small number of classes and inhibit students’ progress and learning. Staff are sometimes too tolerant of such behaviour”.
The decision of the DfE to refuse Croydon College permission to establish a secondary academy was, though, greeted with a quiet welcome from figures on Croydon Council.
“That’s good news,” a senior Town Hall figure said last night. “In essence, they were doing it to feed more students directly to the College, which is a strange approach when if they concentrated on the art college and university centre, they would have all the ‘pull’ they require.
“Look at their Sussex University-backed degrees are and their bursary schemes at the college, and they are a great success. Hopefully, after this decision they will be concentrating on their possible new college building,” the council source said.
The Labour-run council has been trying to find a way to turn central Croydon into a student town, enticing the likes of Roehampton University to take up a tenancy in the world’s most expensive council building, the £140 million Fisher’s Folly. Those efforts have been unsuccessful so far, though an increased further education offer in Croydon could make sense in the town’s development. And Croydon College, situated between East Croydon Station and Fairfield Halls, might be expected to have some role in that.
Educationalists working in Croydon have no doubt about the realities of demand for secondary school places, and question the DfE’s real reasons for turning down Croydon College’s application.
“There is certainly a school place shortage in the pipeline,” one veteran working in Croydon schools told Inside Croydon. “Just look at the numbers for births and primary pupils.
“I would think that the DfE think that they can get better sponsors who are more focused on educational outcomes; or they are waiting for some of the very successful grassroots primary academies to put in bids for secondary schools (STEP; or Krishna Avanti Primary School Croydon; or Paxton) ; or they have made promises to their friends like Harris.”
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