Saffron Walden schools in crisis

PUBLISHED: 09:00 12 November 2015

Archant

Primary schools in Saffron Walden have reached crisis point.

All the schools are full. Brothers and sisters cannot join each other and some parents have turned to home-education.

So say the five headteachers of Katherine Semar, Infant and Junior schools, St Thomas More Primary School, the R A Butler School and St Mary’s Church of England School. They have sent the Reporter a jointly signed letter expressing exasperation at having to turn pupils away.

The headteachers say all the schools have waiting lists and things can only get worse.

The final straw has been a decision by Essex County Council against allowing Katherine Semar Infant and Junior Schools to expand, adding an extra class of 30 pupils per year.

This expansion had been agreed but suddenly, this week, the council told the school that it was off.

It said the cost was too high. Instead, a new school is to be built in Saffron Walden – but it will not be ready until 2018.

The headteachers say the town cannot wait that long.

They wrote: “All headteachers in Saffron Walden are increasingly concerned about the lack of school places.”

“Every week, every school is getting phone calls from families moving into the area who do not have places in their catchment area.

“In every school, families are split as the schools cannot accommodate siblings together. Without the expansion of Katherine Semar and a with new school unlikely to be built until 2018, we are increasingly concerned about what will happen to children due to start school in September 2017 as we know there are not sufficient school places available.”

Mark Hayes, chair of Saffron Academy Trust, of which Katherine Semar is a member, said “ We are all very disappointed by this decision. Staff and governors at Katherine Semar worked very hard to offer a high quality solution to the urgent need for more primary school places in Saffron Walden.

“I have absolutely no doubt that if the proposal had been approved the schools would have delivered the places in time for 2017.

“Both Katherine Semar schools are rated by Ofsted as outstanding and now there will be 30 fewer children a year able to benefit from the education that they offer.”

Mary-Jo Hall, headteacher at St Thomas More for 16 years, told the Reporter: “We are at crisis point. We are all very concerned at the lack of school places. People moving into the town can’t find a place at any school in the town. They have to go out to the villages or they decide their children will be home educated.

“This problem will only get worse, it has been escalating over the past four years.”

Karen Cayford, acting head at St Mary’s C of E School said: “We have parents with children at different schools and they have to dash from one to the other. People phone us for places and we have to say no because we are at capacity.”

A spokesman for Essex County Council said an extra 105 places were planned for the RA Butler School in time for next September.

Councillor Ray Gooding, Essex County Council’s cabinet member for education, said: “I can assure residents of Saffron Walden that we are committed to providing the school places needed to meet demand.

“We regularly hold discussions with schools about potential expansion projects, but clearly we owe it to taxpayers to pursue the options that represent the best possible value for money.”

“We are planning to spend about £200million over the next five years on creating new school places across Essex, including projects at RA Butler, Joyce Frankland Academy and Newport Primary, together with either a more cost effective expansion in Saffron Walden or a new primary school.”

Parents can apply now for school places in September 2016. Parents and carers of children born between September 1,2011 and August 31, 2012 have until January 15 2016 to apply for primary school places for the 2016-17 intake. Applications can be made at www.essex.gov.uk/admissions. The website also enables parents to search for the school information, read Ofsted reports and check admissions criteria.

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