£160m schools plan to be badgered over surplus places

In the thrall of property developers as usual, Croydon Council officials want to spend many millions of public money on building schools where there are not enough pupils. Education correspondent GENE BRODIE reports

SchoolCroydon Council’s school-building strategy will come in for some detailed questioning at a Town Hall meeting tonight, as the plan to spend £160million of public money on five new schools will be set against a borough-wide surplus of school places compared to projections of the borough’s population of children.

Under current plans, one ward, Waddon, could find itself as host to 12 schools, perhaps even 13, offering places far exceeding the number of children in the area. But the south of the borough, and New Addington, are to have relatively little provision of new schools, meaning either greater competition for places at its existing schools, or long journeys across the borough for youngsters to get their education.

The council’s own figures, contained in the report submitted to tonight’s cabinet meeting, show a borough-wide surplus of primary school places of 634 in the next academic year, the equivalent of 21 classrooms empty of pupils. By 2022, that surplus figure is expected to have risen to 837 places, or 28 classes.

For secondary places, the surplus number across the borough is  310 next year, a figure which by 2020 will rise to 366, even excluding the places likely to be provided by one large new academy which has yet to be granted all necessary permissions.

The council’s figures show an over-supply of school places in primaries and secondaries all the way through to 2023.

“A lot of the provision being built into the system is based on assumptions that there will be significant numbers of children moving into new developments in the town centre, where there are few schools and fewer sites suitable to build schools,” a Katharine Street source told Inside Croydon today.

“What the council officers have done is look for sites, rather than look at where the children are and finding sites where people live. It’s the quick and convenient solution. But there are cumulative consequences of lumping a whole load of schools in one area just because the council can find a few sites there.

“It all ends up with thousands of children being driven to and from school every day. All considerations of things such as congestion, over-crowding of public transport and the borough’s dangerously high levels of air pollution just get ignored.”

Waddon’s councillors placed objections to the over-loading of schools in their ward in the Croydon Local Plan last year and one of the ward councillors, Robert Canning, is expected to put questions to the cabinet member for education, Alisa Flemming, on the issue.

Alisa Flemming: facing questioning about a surplus of school places

Alisa Flemming: facing questioning about a surplus of school places

With Waddon on the boundary with Sutton, Canning is understood to be concerned that Croydon ensures that it is children from this borough who get places at local schools, and he may also ask what provision is being made to ensure as many pupils as possible are able to walk or cycle safely to school.

It is in Waddon that the council is paying a massive premium to build a “hermetically sealed” primary school to shield its pupils’ developing lungs from the worst effects of the deadly air pollution from the Purley Way, yet there is already a surplus of primary school places for Waddon children. The Minster schools, also in the ward, and proposals for the Hindu-sponsored Avanti academy, to be built on a site next to the Croydon Flyover’s six-lane urban motorway, have also raised serious issues around parent parking.

The issue has affected other wards, too: the Oasis Arena Academy was built on Metropolitan Open Land, creating considerable traffic disruption for residents, despite there already being ample secondary school places in South Norwood and Woodside.

Croydon Council is claiming to have delivered “one of the largest school expansion programmes in the country”, with 1,500 primary and more than 4,000 secondary places.

For a council press release last week, Flemming was told to say: “It’s fantastic to be able to announce that by 2020 more than 6,000 extra children will be able to be taught at local schools. Our population is growing fast, and I’m delighted to be able to reassure parents that they will not have to worry about whether their children will be able to get into a local school.”

Will these fine fellows cause plans for a school on playing fields to be stopped?

Will these fine fellows cause plans for a school on playing fields to be stopped?

The council press release stated: “Between 2018 and 2020 the large recent growth in the numbers of children attending the borough’s primary schools will require a similar expansion of secondary school provision. The council plans to meet this demand with three new free schools providing more than 2,500 places. Subject to DfE approval one of these will be built at The Crescent, with another to be constructed in Morland Road. The third site has yet to be agreed, with options currently being explored by Sutton’s Wallington County School.”

Croydon’s propaganda department deliberately left out one word from the correct title of the Sutton school: which is, of course, Wallington County Grammar School.

This deceit by omission is probably because Croydon’s Labour-run council is backing the proposed free school, which will have a selective entry, if initially determined by the sporting prowess of its intake of 11-year-olds.

That school is Coombe Wood, which wants council planners to bulldoze Green Belt playing fields opposite Lloyd Park. Objectors are likely to insist that a thorough environmental impact survey is conducted on the site, which is believed to be close to protected badger setts.

If that is proved to be the case, then it is possible that the council may be forced to turn to another site – which just happens to be in Waddon ward.

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About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
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