Friday 10 January 2014

Crucial Executive vote on Monday on Princess Fred expansion plans

On January 4th LINK I wrote about the officer's report going to Monday's Brent Executive recommending the expansion of Princess Frederica Primary School in Kensal Rise, despite 90% opposition from parents.

On December 17th 2013 there had been a well-attended public meeting about the issue which Cllr James Denselow reported on his blog LINK where Princess Frederica's case was discussed along with the more general issues around rising school population and school places provision.

The Council, schools and parents are in a difficult position because of Michael Gove's policy that local authorities cannot build new schools - these have to be provided by free schools or academy chains. The local authority is left with little option but to expand existing schools on their present site and exceptionally open 'annexes' near a school such as has happened with Leopald in Harlesden and the old CSD building in Brentfield Road and Stonebridge Primary and the disused day care centre on the opposite side of the road.

Expansion on existing sites can reduce play space, convert shared spaces such as school libraries, computer suites and assembly halls into classrooms and create more crowded conditions with more children occupying less space. Parents often prefer smaller primary  schools because of the family atmosphere where the head knows every child by name and the youngest of children feel safe and secure.The officers' report makes the case for larger schools (large school successes in the borough, teachers' career prospects, curriculum opportunities, outside school provision) but doesn't balance that with the case for smaller schools.

Free school providers cash in on this by planning small schools as local schools become bigger and end up competing with them.  So far primary free school providers have not come forward in Brent, instead we have four secondary free schools where generally at present there is not a shortage.

The rub is that in seeking to preserve the positives of space, intimacy and ethos and deciding against expansion other children will be deprived on any education at all.  The real villain is Michael Gove and his policy but children suffer either way.  That is why there is a growing movement, supported by the Green Party, the NUT, Michael Pavey LINK and Barry Gardiner amongst others to restore local authorities' power to build new schools.You can support the School Places Crisis campaign by signing the petition HERE

NUT research suggests that by 2016 2/5 reception age children in some parts of London will not have a school place.

It now appears that as a result of the public meeting and strong opposition to Princess Frederica's expansion that the Executive will reject the officers' recommendation. Michael Pavey told the Wembley Observer 'We are listening to the views of the community and they got their mesage across very clearly'.

Rejection of a tabled report is unusual under the present administration. .It would have been more likely to be withdrawn before the publication of the Agenda if it was clear Executive members, and particular the lead member, were against it.

Th following message appears on the school's expansion blog today:
 The next milestone in the expansion proposal project is on Monday, 13 January 2014 at 7.00pm when the Brent Council Executive will review the report on the outcome of the statutory consultation at the Board Room in the new Brent Civic Centre:

This report still recommends that Princess Frederica should expand, subject to planning permission.

However, in a significant recent development, Councillor Michael Pavey, Lead Member for Children & Families, Brent Council, has suggested that he may vote against the proposed expansion of Princess Frederica CE VA Primary School.

In the meantime, the governing body continues to await key information from Brent which would allow it to make a definitive decision about whether or not it supports the proposal to expand.

As soon as we can, we will update you further.
 Unfortunately I cannot go to the Executive on Monday but I will be interested to hear of the outcome.

Meanwhile another consequence of Gove's ban on LA's building new schools is emerging as Brent Council  has started 'instructing' headteachers to take additional Key Stage 2 children who currently are not in school despite their schools being full. This would take class sizes above 30 and conflict with the NUT's class size limit. Some of these children will be new to the UK and some may not have been to school before so they will need additional resources and teacher time.

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