A group of St Neots parents whose children have been denied places at the Round House School on Love’s Farm are campaigning to secure entry in time for the September intake.
The decision to deny places to 18 children, some of whom live a few hundred metres from the school gates, has been described as “short-sighted” by parents, with others blaming planners who allowed developers to bulid houses while failing to ensure adequate educational provision.
The Round House Capacity Campaign was set up a few weeks ago after some parents receieved letters informing them their children would not be offered places.
Although time is running out, campaigners hope they can persuade Cambridgeshire County Council to erect a mobile classroom on the school site to house the 18 pupils and work on a long-term solution that addresses demand for schooling in the area.
“Some of us will be driving past The Round House to get to other schools,” said parent Ellie Grey.
“This is a new estate with lots of family homes so surely it was short-sighted not to have worked out that families with children would need schools.”
St Neots councillor Barry Chapman has described the situation regarding school places as a “demographic time bomb”.
Cllr Chapman is angry about the lack of provision for school places on this eastern corner of St Neots that is set for further expansion in the future.
“This situation was foreseeable. The late Steve Van de Kerkhove and councillors Derek Giles and David Harty and myself met with county education provisioning to warn about this three years ago. Since that time, new residents have paid a fortune through developers to Huntingdonshire District Council.
“That money has been treated as a windfall towards projects elsewhere resulting in small children being off-loaded across St Neots schools. There are now few places left in infant schools anywhere in St Neots and no one is taking responsibility for the inevitable explosion of this demographic time bomb.”
Research carried out by the campaigners has shown that half the September intake of 32 children are siblings of pupils already at the school, who are guaranteed a place. The group has approached the county council about providing a mobile classroom but have been told there is not enough time to secure planning permission, but believe the school building should be expanded to cope with future demand.
“We feel the reason they won’t make a decision is because if they agree to expand the school they will have to take the children on the list this year which they don’t want to do,” said parent Danielle Parkin.
“We have been told there is no way they’ll be able to get planning permission for the mobile classroom in time as it takes 12 weeks. We have told them we would still prefer them to try and expand the school even if it means we don’t find out for definite until the last minute. My son is one of the children who didn’t get into the school and we only live 500 metres from the school. Our campaign has gone from strength to strength with not only parents affected this year but also an overwhelming amount of support from other parents.”
Parent Emma Stevens added: “It seems absolutely crazy that the thing that could cause the campaign to fail is the planning permission of a mobile classroom and we’re not going to stop fighting because of that.”
Cambridgeshire County Council issued a statment in which it said: “This year in Cambridgeshire 93 per cent of children were offered a place at their first preference primary school which makes us far better than the national average of around 88 per cent, and overall 98 per cent were offered a place at one of their three preferred schools.
“At this time, there are sufficient places at primary schools within the St Neots east of the river area for all children requiring a reception place for September 2017. All children in the Love’s Farm catchment have been offered a school place within the two-mile statutory walking distance of their home. Parents are given the option to name three schools in order of preference and are warned at the time of application that not all will be offered their first choice.”
The campaign has received support from county councillor, Julie Wisson, who told The Hunts Post she will take the matter forward.
She said: “I support the residents in their aims and I will be meeting with officers to further progress how this matter may be resolved by the county council.”