Author: Ian Hamilton
The council proposes to use the school site on Forthbridge Road as overflow for Belleville Primary School from Sep 2011, but intend to deny local children access.
The second consultation on the plan has received over 456 objections vs just 33 supportive responses but the Children’s Services Dept. is still recommending that it should go-ahead!
1) Many local residents would like to see the site continue in school-use when it comes free this year but they have overwhelmingly rejected this proposal because:
(i) admission will still only be based on distance from the original Belleville site. This means any children living near the Forthbridge site will have no chance to attend.
(ii) there will be much more traffic from 120 non-local children and 12months of building work but no local benefit.
(iii) Belleville parents actually rejected an earlier plan for a purely on-site expansion at the school back in 2009.
(iv) there are concerns about council discussions to sell-off land adjacent to the site to property developers.
2) The plan would make Belleville the largest primary in the country, but a “Superschool” split over two sites nearly 1km apart is in no-one’s interest for parents, staff or most importantly the pupils. Many Belleville parents themselves are not keen on this latest expansion proposal! With just 33 positive responses – nobody really wants this and nobody thinks it’s a good idea. Moreover simply “stealing” a site from another ward doesn’t even begin to address the underlying reasons for growing demand such as the rising birth rate in the Borough, the movement of people to be near very successful schools, the council’s previous closures of primary schools and selling-off their sites and so on.
3) There are serious concerns about how the consultation process has been conducted:
(i) February’s initial consultation omitted any mention of the admission criteria! It received small support overall in-favour, but was therefore a misleading exercise. It’s results have been completely discredited by those of the second consultation (after campaigners requested that it’s notification should include a clarification on the admissions)
(ii) Many local residents tell us they did not even receive any communications from the council about either consultation and this includes two local nursery schools (despite the council saying they would consult with them). A supplementary report (Paper No.10-540A – a much-easier two pages) has now been issued acknowledging some, but not all of these points. It still recommends the proposal. Whatever it grudgingly says, we would point out that 456 people clearly didn’t think the initial consultation “was very clear” at all!
4) The council’s argument behind this ridiculous plan is there is “significant unmet demand” for the Honeywell and Belleville school so they must offer more places there, while saying there is “no such demand” on here on the northside. Of course the “Outstanding” schools of Belleville and Honeywell are oversubscribed but to say there is no such demand near the Forthbridge site is simply not true. Through a Freedom Of Information request we have evidence to show that there were actually more applications per place for the Wix school here on the northside (even to it’s normal intake English language stream) for 2010 reception places than there were for the reception places at Belleville. The council’s plan seems to be based on an approximate and out-of-date assessment of “demand” in this area.
5) We are asking the council to withdraw their unfair proposal. The rising birth rate in the Borough undoubtedly means more primary school places are needed. The fact that a site that could be used provide some of these places is about to become available is a good thing, provided this site can be used in fair & equitable way. We ask for further and more open consultation. This should involve a discussion forum and open meetings with residents living on and around Forthbridge Road, (the consultation conducted with Belleville parents back in 2009 included this). The council’s assessment of the lack of local demand for the site looks very questionable, we would like to see this properly re-assessed and re-visited in the light of 2010 application data.
6) We also ask that greater consideration should be given to a broader range of sensible options for the Forthbridge Road site. Options such as:
(i) The Wix school on the northside is much closer to the Forthbridge site (270m walking route) and is the obvious candidate to use the Forthbridge site. Wix is local school already attended by local children so future admission criteria could be handled much more fairly as the two sites are just a few streets apart. Already-local children would mean a much lesser increase in traffic too. Wix Governors have even complained about this Belleville expansion proposal and the Wix headmaster would be keen to expand Wix to include the Forthbridge site.
(ii) The Forthbridge site is large enough for a completely new primary school – 8 classrooms so “one form entry” or 30pupils per year (in fact the Belleville Governors currently intend to run it like that). The council say they only want to expand successful schools. No one would argue with wishing to leverage successful school management but this can be achieved in other ways such as mentoring, rather than a land grab.
7) The Education and Children’s Services Overview and Scrutiny Committee meets on Thurs1stJuly to make a decision and we are requesting to form a deputation to that committee. Please contact the councillors on the committee if you agree this plan is unfair.