GENE BRODIE, our education correspondent, on the predictable outcomes for residents in neighbouring streets after the opening Croydon’s first selective school for 40 years
Coombe Wood School has not been open for a month yet, but shortcomings in its planning, as predicted by residents living on the roads near the selective school, are already causing anger and anxiety.
An estimated 2,000-plus prospective parents descended on the residential streets off Coombe Road, opposite Lloyd Park, last Wednesday for the school’s open evening, causing traffic gridlock for hours.
Complaints to the school have received what residents have described as “unapologetic” responses, with one executive claiming that there was nothing more the school could have done and blaming the situation on “selfish” prospective parents for not travelling by tram.
Coombe Wood School is operated by the Folio Trust, an academy chain based at Wallington Grammar School for Boys. The large secondary is to have £30million spent on new buildings, to be sited on what was until last year publicly owned playing fields, designated as Green Belt.
The school opened the doors of its temporary, prefab-like classrooms for the first time last month, with a co-educational intake of 180 11-year-olds. Some of the pupils – 10 per cent of them – had been selected based on their sporting aptitude, and the school’s first intake was heavily over-subscribed.
Coombe Wood’s selection process for 2019 is already well under way, with applications for the sports aptitude test closing in early September. Last Wednesday was used to show off the school’s temporary facilities and to demonstrate its self-professed “grammar school ethos”.
Despite having acres of unused playing field at their disposal, the school website informed parents there would be no parking facilities on the site. There were no bookings taken for the event, so the school had no measure of how many parents might wish to attend. On its website, the school instructed its open evening visitors to park “considerately”, in neighbouring roads.
Melville Avenue was soon overwhelmed, as parents parked their cars on pavements and across yellow lines, in several cases causing obstruction to any resident trying to drive out from their house.
As one resident told Inside Croydon, “There were times when the road became completely congested as parents rushed to find any parking space they could.”
Concerns over increased traffic volumes, vehicle parking and road safety, particularly on crossings of the busy A212, had all been raised during the planning process by residents who live on the surrounding streets. But the council planning committee, under the chairmanship of Councillor Paul Scott, opted to ignore them, citing the need for additional school places in the borough.
Croydon currently has around 5,000 surplus secondary school places, with some large, new-built schools in academy chains having classes that are barely two-thirds full.
In July, one large church secondary, St Andrew’s High, announced that it had been forced to close to Year 7 entry pupils because it was so badly under-subscribed.
The Labour-run council, nonetheless, has ploughed on with its plans to build over playing fields to create the vast, 1,680-pupil selective school.
Last Wednesday was the first big test of how Coombe Wood might operate alongside its neighbours. Residents affected by the parking chaos marked the school with an F-minus as its test result.
Some complained directly to the school’s headmaster, Barry Laker, and to the Trust’s “executive head” Jonathan Wilden. Residents describe the emailed responses they received as “unapologetic”.
“All Laker did was to ask residents to continue to support the school,” one resident said.
“Laker did admit that they had not expected such numbers to turn-out, but there would have been problems with parking even if just 400 or 500 parents had attended.”
Another resident said, “They just said that they can not do anything as they are not the police!”
The appearance of a wide gate leading from the school entrance on to the playing field has also intrigued residents. “Why didn’t the school just open the gate to allow parking on a section of the playing field which is currently in a state of disrepair and about to have construction traffic driving across it?”
The open evening was not a one-off as far as inconsiderate and potentially dangerous parking is concerned. The daily school run along Coombe Road is already busy, with parents driving children to the prep school and independent schools established near by.
Coombe Wood parents’ approach to parking is creating additional traffic and problems.
On Friday morning, one resident witnessed a parent stopping right outside the school entrance to drop-off a pupil. The lack of any zig-zag markings and notices outside the new school means, according to a member of school staff who also witnessed this, that there is nothing that can be done.
“Why has the council allowed the school to open without such basic safety warnings in place and enforceable?” asked the resident.
Councillors for South Croydon ward have approached the police to seek an urgent solution.
Meanwhile, residents in the lower part of Melville Avenue have also had to contend with school coaches waiting outside their houses, often with their engines left running, pumping out diesel fumes, as they are unable to enter the school grounds. The school is currently ferrying its pupils to Waddon Leisure Centre and Old Walcountians’ sports grounds for games and swimming lessons.
The school managed to further outrage residents on Saturday. A sunny and warm day in their gardens proved impossible to enjoy due to the constant shrill of the school’s intruder alarm system which activated early Saturday morning and didn’t stop until after 4pm. Residents were forced to alert the police and council, neither of whom had any out-of-hours contact number for the school.
The alarm finally stopped after a member of the school’s office staff spotted an email sent to their enquiries address.
The school has, this week, reached out with something that passes for an apology from Richard Baker, Folio Trust’s chief finance officer, who has promised to find a better solution to their coach parking, and suggested forming a working group of councillors, residents and school staff.
But woe betide any residents who might have complaints about the way the school, and its development, is being imposed on the previously quiet, suburban streets. “It will be important that all taking part come together constructively with suggestions rather than using this as an excuse to air grievances,” Baker wrote. “I am happy to listen to these as and when necessary, but this must be a positive forum.” Poor lamb.
Baker’s effort to excuse conduct at last week’s open evening, some residents believe, shows a shifting of blame to the visiting parents, rather than Folio Trust taking any responsibility for its piss-poor planning.
Baker wrote, “I fully understand and appreciate the frustrations experienced last Wednesday evening at our open evening, but in all honesty I am at a loss to think of what else we could have done. We certainly did not anticipate the volume of visitors that we experienced, and we had sent out a message that there was no on site parking, and that public transport links were very good.
“But it doesn’t matter how often you say that, or how much we believe in Mayor Khan’s sustainable transport agenda, people are by nature selfish, and will look for the most convenient solution which is usually to get into their car. It was suggested that we could have opened up the field for parking, but with an event where people are coming and going throughout the evening, and having only one point of entry and exit, that would have been an even larger nightmare.”
With Croydon Council once again failing to represent the interests of the people it is supposed to work for, residents and Council Tax-payers, it seems that those living on Melville Avenue and nearby streets are in for many more years of lack of consideration and civic development bullying.
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It will be chaos once 1600 odd pupils are being dropped off every day. I can’t imagine those parents letting their little darlings mix with all the riff-raff on the buses and trams.
How about safe routes to allow pupils and teachers to cycle to school?
as if parents and pupils will cycle to school
It might be (new) chaos, yet it’s not peculiar to this (new) school – as the residents around any of the popular ones will tell you. OK: it will be new to these residents – Melville Avenue etc – yet it’s not a unique characteristic.
Cumnor House completely stuffs the Pampisford Road mornings and evenings.
It’s impossible to get from one end of Peaks Hill to another in any sensible fashion when Fisher is chucking out; and it’s not much better around the Haling area, when Whitgift is doing the same.
Uncuriously (sic), the better the school, the more cars there seem to be.
So the more interesting issue is why – given the extraordinary turnout for the open day – applications for the Wallingtons, Wilson’s, and Sutton GS run at over 10:1, for places? Even Whitgift is something like 5:1, if not more.
Until its selection door closed, Fisher was massively oversubscribed – as Coloma remains. Plus Croydon High and so on and so on.
If all Croydon schools were of a standard* whereby the scramble for grammar, quasi-grammar or independent, subsidised** places did not occur; not only would this new school not exist, traffic to the others would be dissipated more evenly.
This new school is symptomatic of a wider problem; not a cause.
*My wife used to teach ‘home economics’ (as it used to be called) at a well-known Croydon state school. The pupils were not allowed to leave the kitchen classroom, until all knives had been accounted for. She got fed up with that, and watching for drug abuse, and premature sexual activity (12 year-olds trying to f each other), signs of violence etc etc etc.
So she packed in for no longer being a teacher, but merely running – as she put it – a “police action”.
It wasn’t traffic chaos round there – no one ever got a lift to school.
**I think Whitgift claims that around 50% of its pupils are either on scholarships or in receipt of bursaries. I expect the other two foundation schools are similar. At £27K wage p.a or below, you’re paying 300 quid a term or less. Bargainous.
It is clear an inadequate assessment has been made of the unfavourable externalities caused by this development. During a time of austerity and surplus school places and other undeveloped locations it beggars belief how such an inappropriate site has been chosen. Tells you all you need to know about central and local governance. Wonder who will be monitoring the accounts and where all this investment will be going at this “free” school?
I note the continued use of ‘selective’ in referring to the school. It comes across as a bit of a dig as if selection is a bad thing. Clearly some people don’t like it at all, but others might like it, might think it is OK in moderation, or don’t really care. Regardless of that I feel if the term is used it is important it doesn’t mislead. By the standards of some local schools CWS really isn’t very selective at all and it certainly isn’t selective in the way it is commonly understood. CWS does indeed allocate up to 10% of places to those who have passed a sporting aptitude test. In a ‘selective’ school you might reasonably expect the figure to be nearer 100% and you would certain expect those places to be allocated first. At CWS that 10% is actually used to offer places to pupils who missed out on the 90% of places allocated on the usual distance and other criteria, so extending the reach of the school beyond the catchment area to those who might benefit most from it. I guess you can call that selection if you want but it isn’t really selection as I understand it. Basically if you are within the catchment you will get a place regardless of your assessed sporting aptitude, though that catchment will slightly smaller.
There are other local schools who put every single applicant through academic tests and then place them into ability based bands based on the results. They then allocate a certain number of places to each band to try and reflect the spread of academic ability in the community. If you are within the catchment area your chances of getting a place are dependent on your assessed academic ability. I don’t really think that is selection either, but it is ten times more selective than CWS is.
I don’t recognise the school’s ‘self-professed “grammar school ethos”‘ either. I can well imagine the phrase may have been used somewhere at some stage but I don’t know where. I have listened to Jonathan Wilden’s pitches to parents and chatted to him on occasions and the only time he has said anything even vaguely related is to say how they would be drawing on their experience of good practice in grammar schools, particularly Wally Boys. However he also said he would equally be taking good practice from other schools too. I believe he is now the CEO of the Trust, by the way, so the ‘executive head’ nibble doesn’t really work (but yes, if so, they do need to update some websites). I’ve heard all Barry Laker’s talks and chatted to him on numerous occasions and he’s never mentioned Grammar Schools.
As a trivial aside, coaches and mini-buses are indeed being used to ferry pupils to a number of external sports venues on Friday mornings. I believe Waddon Leisure Centre is indeed one of them and may well be one of those a coach is used for, but it isn’t for swimming lessons. Doesn’t change the underlying point though.
Oh Graham, if only you bothered to read as much as you pontificate.
Selection is selection is selection.
Just like you can’t be a “little bit pregnant”, a selective school is a selective school even when it begins at selecting just 10% of its intake (a figure which may well be adjusted in time).
Coombe Wood School doesn’t disguise that fact.
So why should you try to diminish its significance (as certain Labour councillors have sought to do)?
It is the first new selective school in this borough in more than 40 years. That’s a fact.
It has been helped on its way by a council which is Labour-controlled. This at a time when Labour Party policy opposes selection in education at 11-plus.
The reality is that almost all secondary schools conduct a form of selection once their Year 7 cadre are through the door, by streaming for English, maths and sometimes other subjects, too. But that a Labour-run local authority has removed Green Belt planning designation from playing fields to enable a selective school to be built on that site is significant.
You say: “I don’t recognise the school’s ‘self-professed grammar school ethos’ either.”
Doesn’t matter if you do or don’t. That’s how the school has described itself on its own website, as it was selling itself to parents for its first year’s intake. It possibly accounts why it was so over-subscribed, as it offers a back-door route into a satellite grammar school run by a large Sutton grammar.
You say: “I believe he is now the CEO of the Trust, by the way, so the ‘executive head’ nibble doesn’t really work.”
It appears to work for Wilden and CWS, because that is how he chooses to describe himself on the school’s own website, and if that’s what he calls himself, that’s how we will describe him.
You say: “As a trivial aside, coaches and mini-buses are indeed being used to ferry pupils to a number of external sports venues on Friday mornings. I believe Waddon Leisure Centre is indeed one of them and may well be one of those a coach is used for, but it isn’t for swimming lessons.”
It is far from a “trivial aside” for those residents of neighbouring streets who have to endure the school coaches belching diesel fumes outside their homes while parked up waiting for the school to bus their pupils to one sports venue or another. And the information about the use of the buses was, yet again, sourced from the school itself, as we note in the article.
You say: “Doesn’t change the underlying point though.”
You had a point? Really?