Government handout to tackle bulge classes

Council wants £20m for extra primary school places.

Council officers admitted last year’s increase in primary school applications - which saw 212 children initially left without a school place last September - now appears to be a worrying trend, with two new schools and expansion of six more needed by September 2012 to cope with the increase.

Worried parents in the north Berrylands area of Surbiton, who feared the surge would leave them without a local primary school place for their children, have been supplied with an extra 150 places in nearby schools, while the north Kingston trouble spot will have an extra 90 places.

An unexpected rise in the birthrate, together with an increased number of people moving into certain urban areas, means that there could be nearly 12,000 five-year-olds without school places over the next six years and a further 15,000 being educated in temporary classrooms, according to research from the London Councils campaign group.


RBK is under a legal duty to provide sufficient primary school places within a reasonable distance of a child's home.
It recently closed consultation on the number of primary school places it proposes to provide for the September 2010 intake.
Unbelievably, it proposes to provide the same number of places as in previous years.
These figures were 220 short in 2008, and are now 300 short in 2009.
RBK knows that the projected Sep 2010 figures it published are way short of what is required.
They obviously intend to address 2010's shortfall in provision by creating more last minute bulge classes.

The danger words for Surbiton parents is the "last minute" nature of provision, not the need for bulge classes themselves.
RBK prefers to create bulge classes because it doesn't have to justify any last minute decisions taken.
It can claim it is acting under exceptional circumstances and can legally locate classes where they like, regardless of where they are really needed.

To illustrate, the extra bulge classes RBK originally announced in October 2008 proved to be inadequate to meet this year's demand.
Back then, they announced that 60 places would be provided in Tolworth.
Based on the previous year's shortages (2008), the problem was clearly centred on Surbiton, not Tolworth.
RBK refused to provide any basis for their initial refusal to provide Surbiton places.
Surbiton parents in the no coverage zone (east of Surbiton station, south of Cranes Park Avenue, and north of the Surbiton Lawn Tennis Club) were worried at the very real prospect of having to travel south of the A3 to get a school place.

After intense lobbying and political pressure, 115 places were belatedly provided in Surbiton, and a reduced number (45) in Tolworth.
RBK's initial failure to direct resources where needed undermines parents' trust in RBK's ability to manage next year's problem.
How can parents have faith that RBK will finally get it right and provide the right number of classes, in the right places?
All the more so when they refuse to publish realistic estimates of places needed for Sep 2010.

Next year, it is unlikely that Maple Infants will be able to accommodate any extra classes.
The next nearest schools to the No Coverage Zone are both CoE (St Matthews and Christchurch).
This year, it appears that they did not initially offer to host bulge classes,and only did so at the last minute, after negotiations with RBK.
RBK does have the legal powers to intruct them to expand, but (unforgivably imo) chose not to do so.
These two schools need to give upfront assurances to Sep 2010's parents that they will expand to meet the expected 2010 shortfall in school places.

We have heard (straight from the horses mouth) that RBK are now reconsidering plans to demolish the old school at Grand Avenue.
The problem here is that the new school's planning permission was dependant on the demolition of the old one.
Regardless of the old school builing's fate, it's likely that Grand Avenue will have to host some of Surbiton's surplus pupils next year.

The years after next (2011 onwards) present particular challenges for RBK and Surbiton parents.
Maple Infants, St Matthews, and Christchurch are all likely to have run out of space to accommodate bulge classes.
Any new buildings or extensions are unlikely to have been completed.
Grand Avenue on its own will not be able to take up all the slack.

There is a very real possibility that reception children in these years will be forced to travel well outside Surbiton to find a school place.
The only glimmer of hope is that central govt funding could be made available very quickly.
This could allow development of the unneeded half of the Surbiton Hospital site, the only obvious site that lies close to the No Coverage Zone.
The Govt didn't appear overly enthusiastic about releasing capital when the matter was debated with Ed Davey (see hansard report here).
The Govt preferred instead to infer that other boroughs managed the process better than RBK.

Undoubtedly, this is a demographic problem that is being encountered by neighbouring boroughs, but none of them appear to have been wrongfooted to the degree that our borough has.
RBK may blame birthrates, people moving into the borough, etc, etc but its equally clear that these extra childern didn't arrive overnight in a spaceship from Mars.
The vast majority have been here for 4 years before starting school.
RBK's resource management in that period must be regarded as deficient.
Vastly overpaid, managerially deficient heads should roll.

In the meantime, if you haven't already done so, please sign the Local Schools for Local Children petition at

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