County baffled as schools' crisis looms

February 25, 2009 11:34 AM
Kevin Wilkins

West Chesterton county councillor Kevin Wilkins

Five hundred children could be left without primary school places in two years' time - and county council officials are baffled as to how to solve the problem.

In desperation, they have brought in an expert to go over their research and tell them where they are going wrong.

And they have called on the government to provide emergency cash help of £5 million of new school funding for the Cambridge City crisis over the next three years, though it is uncertain if this is enough as the building costs of the new Shirley Primary School alone are estimated at over £9 million.

The consultant will show them how to increase the number of reception places from 993 last year to 1,507 by 2011. These figures, however, don't take into account planned developments on the city's southern fringe and Station Road.

So far, the Tory-controlled Cambridgeshire County Council has only managed to suggest an extra 105 places across the city's 23 schools. They say reception places could be doubled at Fawcett, Grove, Orchard Park and Ridgefield primary schools.

Last September Milton Road Primary School was forced to increase its reception places from 60 to 90 by turning a staff room into a classroom.

West Chesterton county councillor, Kevin Wilkins, said: "Children in Chesterton have already been affected by the shortage of school places. Many parents across the city will be worried at the news that the problem will be much, much worse in 2011.

"We do not want to see our schools having to use portable buildings as

temporary classrooms. But the county council's failure to plan for the growth of the city has made this all too likely."

Lib Dem Cllr Clare Blair, a member of the county's children and young people steering group, said: "This is a ridiculous situation. Cambridge has been growing at a fast rate and it appears the county council has failed to notice.

"Now we find ourselves heading for a crisis situation and they can't cope so they have had to draft in outside help and hope that the government can come up with some more money to ease the city's problems.

"What I don't want to see is the county council implementing panic measures and forcing schools across the city to take far more reception children than they can cope with. We need well thought out and decisive action."

Lib Dem county education spokes and former head teacher, Cllr Peter Downes, said: "The county's schools department seem to have been let down by the county research team. The seriousness of the situation appears to have taken them by surprise.

"There is no excuse for the county council finding itself in such a dire situation. The city has clearly been growing at a very fast rate and it should have been obvious that new homes bring new families and more demand for school places. "

What would you like to do next?