School places crisis could be far worse than predicted

October 19, 2009 10:25 AM
Lucy Nethsingah

Lucy Nethsingah

A looming crisis over a lack of primary school places for Cambridge youngsters could be much worse than education bosses fear.

Worried Liberal Democrats believe that county council calculations showing that nine extra reception classes are needed by 2011 could be widely off the mark.

They fear that the county council has failed to take into account parents who would normally have sent their children to private school, opting for state education instead because of the financial climate.

Cambridgeshire County Council has asked the government for an extra £5 million to cope with rising pupil numbers at city schools by September 2011.

But Cambridge City Executive Councillor Clare Blair, who sits on the Cambridgeshire Children and Young People's Partnership, said: "This money is a drop in the ocean when it comes to tackling this problem.

"The county council has seriously under-estimated the number of children who need primary school places. Even now I am not convinced its numbers are on target. I believe they are widely off the mark.

"We could be facing many children who would have gone into the private sector but whose parents will not choose that option because of the economic climate. The situation could get a great deal worse."

Cambridge children could be bussed to schools outside the city and others face being taught in cramped primary schools with little outside space after education bosses got their sums wrong.

Furious Lib Dems claim the county council "lost the plot" three years ago when they failed to react to the rising birth rate.

The result of the county council's poor calculation means that some schools will double in size, with mobile classrooms brought in to cope with extra pupils.

Even after introducing panic measures which will create new reception classes across the city, a further five are still needed to cope with at least another 150 children by September 2011.

Lib Dems are calling for urgent action to provide properly designed schools which will offer the facilities and open space that young children need.

"This is a sad indictment of a county council which lost the plot," said Lib Dem county councillor, Lucy Nethsingha. "Our children are starting school on sites that were designed to take only half the number of pupils with facilities to match.

"The county council should have seen this coming in a fast growing city where young families are moving in. But instead it is scrabbling around at the last minute trying to cope with the demand."

County councillor, Kevin Wilkins, added: "There has been a serious lack of forward planning here. The county council's answer is to add mobile classrooms to existing schools, taking away crucial open space and without upgrading facilities.

"Some parents could face the horrendous situation where siblings will be attending different schools or, even worse bussed out of the city to village schools.

"The county council failed to notice the increase in the birth rate as far back as 2006 and only got round to taking some half-hearted measures this year.

"We need properly designed schools with the facilities that children need. It is not acceptable to double school numbers at the drop of a hat and leave the teaching staff to cope."

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