Opposition to Belleville extension

Author: Cyril Richert

This is our third article (of six) of our series on primary schools in the Clapham Junction area.

Concerns of Belleville parents

Beside the previous outcry of parents who did not want Belleville to become bigger, new concerns arose with the new proposal.

Some parents fear that a split would create between the 2 entities with one (probably the new one) being left behind as the main site would be the hosen location of most. Additionally the choice can be driven also with the intention to keep children who went to the same nursery together and they could be split with the new rules (not talking about the drop-off management with one child at school on Forthbridge Road and the other at nursery between the Commons).

A school teacher raise a number of reasons on the website nappyvalleynet.com:

In my opinion, the problem is thinking that it is ok to expand successful primary schools to 3 or 4 form entry. That is huge! Expecting management teams to become like umbrella super – managers of many sites and thinking that this won’t have a negative impact on the children’s education is ridiculous.

And to suggest that having a split site at Forthbridge Road is beneficial for the parents living around Belleville who will be offered places there is missing the point that their children will be going to an annexe site not a separate school. I wouldn’t want my child to go there. How will they maintain unity with the rest of the school? Where will assemblies be? It will be like a strange outpost removed from the rest of the school. Far better to go to High View.

Children fare better is small schools especially at primary school level. Creating 4 form entry primary schools is an awful precedent. I really hope that those objecting to the proposal are concentrating on the educational implications and not becoming side-tracked by class issues. I don’t think this is a moral issue of busing in children to different areas because of class, I think the real issue is trying to over-expand existing schools (because of short-sighted closures a few years back for a start) and save money because its too prohibitive to buy back the land to open new schools.

Belleville Governors decision to run the “Forthbridge annexe” as a separate entity should “smooth” the worries about split school. In other word, the taste of a separate school with the confidence in the Belleville teaching which makes it a successful school.

Forthbridge area protest

It has to be seen (as someone named it) as a “floating” annexe of classrooms from Belleville, a sort of Belleville ghetto if we may say, where pupils would be preserved from being mixed with the environment! All the argument is that the Vines site won’t be a school with the meaning as with its own rules.

Some Belleville parents suggested that it would be unfair to have Forthbridge road’s children to be able to go to the Belleville site in Northcote road, 500 m away. But they do not see any problems for having children living around Broomwood road to travel 1 km to go to the Forthbridge site.

Social mixity

However there is growing protest regarding what most of the people see as deeply unfair treatment. Some parents talked of Wandsworth suggesting that it would create a divide between the have and not-have, and that local children are not good enough for the high standard of the school of Belleville, with the decision to base admission for the Vines site on Belleville’s location and refuse it to local pupils.

Arguments are raised to ask for social mixity in school fairness, as said by a local resident letter:

It can be said that Belleville and Honeywell Schools both perform exceptionally well in national standards because of the families that live local to the schools. They are all predominantly white, upper to middle class working families that live in homes worth £800K upwards. There is a very limited number of council estates anywhere near these two schools. Where as Shaftsbury Park is in the middle of one of Wandsworth’s largest and arguably most dangerous estates. By keeping the affluent middle class children with each other you are leaving all the poorer children to battle it out in barb wired fenced schools and denying them an opportunity at a better education and a better way of life.

Traffic issue

Regarding traffic issue, it is only natural that there will be a considerable amount of increased congestion from parents who choose to drive their children to this new site as it is almost a mile away from where they live. The easiest way to avoid much traffic congestion is to allow local residents the opportunity to attend this new site, thus avoiding the need for 120 new pupils to be driven to and from school each day.

Wix school protest

The first Wix even knew about the Forthbridge site even being available for continued school-use (council plans for years were to sell it) was when they were informed of the Belleville expansion proposal (only two nurseries in the area were consulted… and not even the CJAG 😉 ). The fact that the council did not even inform Wix which is the neighbouring school ahead of the full consult has shocked.

Wix Governors protested in March 2010 (see their letter here) and asked everyone they could contact to join their protest. They protested on the basis that the Council has not formally consulted Wix School over the proposals nor considered the option of expanding Wix School onto the Vines site.

They named five reasons to consider the application as flown:

1. A large number of families living in the Wix area will be excluded from the Belleville catchment as they will be refused to apply for their nearest school; will be closed to them. Given that the area around Wix is more socially diverse than that around Belleville, it seems a rather odd decision of the Council were it to allow a school to open in the area, but require that you had to live in a more affluent area in order to benefit from it.

2. It will do nothing to improve the overall provision of schooling in the Borough and will increase the privilege of an already affluent area, instead of improving a more socially diverse location.

3. As the distance from Belleville to the Vines site is approximately three times that of the distance from Wix the Belleville catchment will increase car journeys and create traffic jungle in the area.

4. Wix is a school which has received international acclaim and transformed itself over recent years from a struggling school to one with a substantial waiting list and a good Ofsted report.

5. The bilingual class has proved itself in a remarkably short time (more than 5 times over-subscribed) and Wandsworth has received international recognition for its foresight and innovation in creating it. While the model set by Wandsworth has now been adopted in several other Boroughs, it will send a wrong message that Wandsworth is not considering the new system seriously.

Instead of Belleville, Wix has claimed that they wanted to use the site in Forthbridge for an expansion.

However, the Council needed to find an immediate solution to Belleville’s over-crowding as the school went ahead on increasing admission for 2010. On the other hand, it seems that, initially, Wix only raised interest on expanding the bilingual section; but they will have to share with the French Lycée according to an existing agreement, therefore reducing the number of places offered.

Next week: Belleville extension approved by Council

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