We are opposed to the proposed Free Schools in Lambeth

freeschools.sayingno.org

The case on school places

Background

In Lambeth over the last twenty years there have been two big campaigns lead by parents and teachers in the borough. One was against the closure of schools and the second was to fight for more schools to be built.

The first campaign was started in 1995 to save the secondary school Dick Shepherd. This was a school that was struggling to attract pupils. The unions fought to save the school, arguing that investment in the school would see numbers pick up, but the site was sold for £800,000 and is now luxury flats overlooking the park. At the time there were surplus places in Lambeth secondary schools as many parents chose

 

The campaign to stop the school sell-offs

This was closely followed by a campaign to stop the closure of several other primary schools. The argument that the council put forward was based on roll projection figures, which they say proved that we needed less primary schools and the plan was to sell off the surplus sites and invest the money in the remaining schools. Again the unions argued that this was short-sighted and the schools would be needed in the future. The slogan on these marches was ‘Clear off DuQuesny, Clear off Rabbats, we need schools not luxury flats’ (these were the names of the leader of the council and the director of education). This campaign was spearheaded by parents, fighting to save their children’s schools and to protect public buildings for being sold off. Many of the campaigns won and some schools were saved from closure. However many school buildings were sold off.

 

The campaign to provide new places

Only a few months later in 2000, there emerged a huge parent lead campaign around the shortage of places in secondary schools. This was called SSCIL and campaigned hard to force money from the government to fund secondary schools. This eventually led to the building of the Lambeth Academy in 2004, followed by the building and opening of the Elm Green school (a community school) in 2007  and Evelyn Grace Academy in 2009. This all provided 540 new places for each year group. There was also during this time an expansion of existing secondary schoolsschools, plus an application for funds to build a fourth new school, which has been given approval and should be open in 2013 on the Fenstanton site, providing a further 180 places.

 

The Building of 4 New Secondary Schools

This has been an increase from 9 schools to 13 schools, a 20% increase in school places. However it is never as simple as just saying that 50% of our children go to school out of the borough. (This figure has now increased to over 60%). It has always been about having schools that are supported by local communities. When Dick Shepherd closed, even then a huge percentage of the population went to school out of the borough. Now over the last 5 years, schools have been improving at such a fast rate that our schools have become attractive to local parents.

There always has to be a balance because schools are funded by numbers of bottoms of seats. Simply saying that places are needed is not enough to justify funding a school. It has to be proved that this will be a successful school. Part of that discussion is about placing the school in a position which will not see a new school competing with its neighbouring schools. This would result in the numbers attending other local schools losing pupils and therefore funding. Funding a brand new school is expensive. If one opens to the public cost of e.g. £25million, but a neighboroughing school closes, then we have a never-ending circle of school closures, fluctuating numbers, the cost of losing staff, keeping or selling off a building and funding  a school while it is struggling to maintain its numbers. One school in Lambeth has recently temporarily reduced its forms of entry. So the argument that places are needed is not so straight forward. If they are needed, why is one school having to reduce its numbers?

The key is about investing in and supporting schools that have a dip. This was partly also what BSF funding would have provided. All of our schools would have had investment and therefore continue to be attractive to parents. Yet this money was cut and will be used to fund free schools. So one school will benefit from the cuts to several schools. This is not a way to build collaboration and co-operation.

 

Raising achievement

The way schools have succeeded in attracting local parents is by working together to improve attainment. So in the last five years Lambeth school results, which were 4 percentage points behind the national average are now only 0.4% behind (taking into account Maths and English). For children achieving 5 A*-C (without Maths and English) over the last 12 years, the rise has been from 28.8% to 74.2%, compared to a national average of 46.3% rising to 75.4%. Lambeth has improved by 46%!

 

 

School places

When we look at the projected figures for capacity and surplus places in Lambeth schools, in the last available document from Lambeth there are currently 661 unfilled places in Lambeth schools. On top of this a fourth new school is about to be built. Yet there has been permission granted to fund a boarding school run by Durand, which will take pupils from the north of the borough, plus this application for a free school. If we look closely at the figures for the north of the borough we see that in fact the majority of the surplus places are in this area. Lambeth is split into 5 areas. In North Lambeth the number of 10 year old is projected to rise by 82 children in the next 9 years. This is equivalent to less than three classes. The local schools have capacity for all of these children, yet there are two schools planned to take up to 270 children per year group; the simple maths says that local schools will suffer from these two new schools. In fact the projected rise for the whole of Lambeth over the next 9 years is equivalent to 330 children per year group, which means that the two new schools in the north of the borough, plus the Fenstanton Academy, could absorb every projected surplus child and still have an unfilled class. This is on top of the already 661 secondary school places that are currently unfilled. In the North Lambeth Town centre there are currently 206 surplus places at primary school, the only part of the borough with places for every child living there. This compares to a shortage in Norwood of over 400 places. Clearly the North of the borough is not a location where the places argument can justify spending public money on a project which will harm local schools and have a negative effect on our community.

The latest figures available from Lambeth show that every child that applied for a place last school year was given one.  There are carefully worked out plans for expanding provision. Any new schools have to be introduced with the support of the community and that includes accountable and elected representatives, the local authority, local governing bodies and local Headteachers. A free school will damage the ability to plan for places and will damage the education of many children in the borough if their schools are affected.

 

(Figures obtained from Lambeth council website)

 

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