Parents worried about the availability of new secondary school places in Adur next year have criticised the county council for ‘sticking its head in the sand’.
Rising pupil numbers in the district mean that children in Shoreham could no longer be guaranteed a place at the Shoreham Academy.
But there is spare capacity to meet demand over the next few years at Lancing’s Sir Robert Woodard Academy, according to West Sussex County Council.
However parents from the campaign group Future Adur Schools Team (FAST) have raised concerns about the availability of an adequate number secondary school places in Adur from 2019 to meet growing demand.
More than 60 parents attended a county council Adur County Local Committee meeting last Thursday to hear an officer presentation about school places and ask questions.
Afterwards one parent said she was ‘incensed’ at the answers provided and accused the county council of ‘sticking its head in the sand’.
The possible need for a new secondary school for the area has been raised several times, but council officers said they were ‘many years away’ from a new school as there was ‘no immediate need’.
It was explained how the Department for Education would not consider a new secondary school of fewer than 180 pupils per year group as viable.
Alastair Reid called this policy ‘ludicrous’ while a lack of contingency in school places was a ‘massive risk’.
He suggested the stated 400 spare places at Sir Robert Woodard could be used up quickly, creating a massive entry year in 2019.
Mr Reid, from FAST, added: “The meting was a real disappointment.
“Nobody was reassured. The council’s complacency is just extraordinary.”
A spokesman for the county council said: “The CLC on the 21st June was a hugely positive meeting where councillors and officers listened to and answered a range of parents’ questions. Written replies to all of FAST’s 28 submitted questions were also available as detailed written responses, to everyone who attended.
“We are grateful to everyone who came. We are disappointed that a few parents still have some concerns after more than an hour of the meeting was dedicated to officers reassuring parents that there won’t be any shortfall in secondary school places in Adur in 2019.”
According to the county council both Sir Robert Woodard and the Shoreham Academy are likely to both reach current net capacity by 2022/23 and should the need arise the authority would initially look to expand existing schools.
Officers said there was nothing to suggest the academy trusts would refuse a future request by the county council to help create extra spaces.
Jim Coupe, principal of the Shoreham Academy, described how constructive conversations were taking place, with the schools being ‘open minded’ to possible solutions.
Several speakers questioned the robustness of the county council’s figures while planning for school places.
Deborah Myers, director for education and skills, explained how they had a sophisticated piece of dedicated software to analyse statistics from a number of resources, while pupil projections were reviewed at least twice a year.
Tim Loughton, East Worthing and Shoreham MP, described how the Shoreham Academy was a ‘victim of its own success and a fantastic school’.
He added: “I understand why you can’t just have another school if it is going to impact on existing schools.”
He asked if WSCC officers were working closely with planning officers to understand how many families with children requiring places would be moving into new developments.
Ms Myers replied they were working ‘really closely’ with district and borough colleagues.
One parent described Sir Robert Woodard as an ‘underperforming school’ and asked what was being done to raise its levels.
Ms Myers described how Sir Robert Woodard had made ‘huge gains and has significantly improved recently’, but improvements to academies were ultimately the responsibility of the regional schools commissioner.
When applying for school places parents can select three preferences.
Officers explained how academies could set their own oversubscription criteria, but Mr Coupe explained how theirs was very similar to West Sussex’s maintained schools.
The other major concern was the need for safe transport for Shoreham children attending Sir Robert Woodard or schools further afield.
It was explained how pupils have to meet criteria to be entitled to assistance with transport, and while some schools may have dedicated buses others may rely on public transport.
One of the criteria is distance to the school and several parents argued the A27 was not a safe walking route for pupils.
Officers explained how the safety of walking routes to schools could be challenged and then assessed by the county council.
What do you think? Email the newsdesk.