Local MP Steve Brine has led calls for much needed new primary school places in Winchester and Hampshire County Council have responded with a £10m plan, to the relief of families across the city.
A special County Council consultation on new primary provision in Winchester ran from 28 March - 15 June 2012 and on 17 July 2012, Cllr Roy Perry (the Executive Member for Children's Services at the authority) announced his decision which will bring 420 new primary places online by September 2014.
You can see full details of the announcement and read Steve's reaction in full here.
Steve is pictured (top) addressing a packed public meeting on the subject at Westgate School in Winchester in May 2012.
The context ...
In recent years the Winchester Town area has seen an increase in demand for primary school places, particularly at Reception Year (Year R). For September 2012 there is a shortage of around 80 places in Winchester schools.
Steve Brine raised the issue in the local press last year (2011) and is now working with city and county council colleagues, local residents as well as key members of the city's education community to deliver a lasting solution.
He said all options remained on the table, including new provision from the Local Education Authority (LEA) and a new 'free' school. Steve has set up an exploratory committee, which first met in July 2012, to consider this as a possibility.
In response to a growing local campaign, Hampshire County Council announced at the end of March 2012 that they would consult on proposals for a new school in the city and Winchester City Council have now made provision for one in their draft local plan in the event the controversial Barton Farm development gets the go-ahead.
Steve says; "It is very clear, regardless of what happens on Barton Farm, that Winchester has an increasing problem with primary places. The County Council has a fiendishly difficult job in many respects but my post bag, my surgery and the number of temporary classrooms that are having to come online for September 2012 tell us there's a crisis looming."
Steve, who is a parent of two himself, said it was good news the council now recognise a new school is needed in Winchester but insisted a huge coordinated local effort was needed to avoid any further delay and get the new facility open, ideally for September 2013 or September 2014 at the very latest.
He added; "I do however think there is a temptation to remain stuck in the old way of thinking whereby we wait patiently to see what the LEA gives us. Michael Gove's 'free' school policy is part of our localism agenda and for the first time it puts new school planning directly in the hands of Winchester residents.
"A free school in the city could be really exciting and I see no reason, least of all ideological opposition, why Winchester should be left behind."
Pictured; Winchester MP Steve Brine is (top) addressing a public meeting on the issue and (middle) discussing the issue of school places with parents and staff on a visit to Harestock Primary School. Around 18 per-cent of the school's pupils are from Forces families and Steve has spoken in the House of Commons about the provision of places for service children; an issue that is likely to return when British personnel come home from Germany in 2012/13.
The detail ...
Hampshire County Council published its Draft School places Plan (2011-15) on 1st December 2011. The document sets out the context for changes in school organisation and the provision of school places, and some of the measures proposed to meet future needs.
The content and format of the 2011-15 Plan reflects a significant change from previous Plans whose emphasis was on surplus school places in the primary sector which is now feeding through into the secondary sector.
Hampshire, in keeping with the national picture, has experienced a significant rise in births over the past 10 years. This, together with housing development in various parts of the county, is resulting in pressure on primary school places and Winchester's problem is especially acute with a deficit of around 80 Year R places for September 2012.
The Draft School Places Plan 2011-15 focuses on pupil number forecasts, which are arrived at through an analysis of past and present uptake of places in all maintained schools in Hampshire together with birth and housing data, which will inform future decisions on the provision of school places.
The draft plan was considered by Councillor Roy Perry - Executive Lead Member for Children's Services, at his Decision Meeting in December 2011 with the recommendation that it be the subject of extensive consultation during Spring 2012 term. Consultation meetings for headteachers, governors, Members and other interested parties were held.
The draft plan does not however, provide concrete proposals to increase primary provision in the city of Winchester. Partly therefore in response to the growing campaign from Steve Brine and local parents, Hampshire County Council consulted throughout April, May and June on new (and controversial) proposals to provide additional primary places.
This consultation centres around either a new 420 place primary school on the Rotherley Site adjacent to Westgate School in Cheriton Road, Winchester, the expansion of existing primary schools in the Winchester area to cope with demand or viable alternative proposals put forward by residents.
Steve says; "The proposal for a new 4-16 'all-through' school adjacent to Westgate is controversial because of the effect it will have on the local area, existing primary schools (such as Western) and the knock-on effect on secondary admission routes but it's a solution and we cannot overlook it. I have consistenly made it clear to HCC that temporary classrooms coming online for September 2012 to accomodate the places shortage are fine but they must be just that - temporary. They should not stop site searching or talking to existing city schools. The consultation was nontheless, a welcome step forward and I am pleased many local residents and school governing bodies engaged so positively with it."
Pictured; Steve working on the new school campaign with one future Winchester pupil, his son William, keeping a close eye on his Dad's work!
The 'free school thing ...
Independent state schools have existed for several decades. In the 1980s, City Technology Colleges were established in deprived areas. In the 1990s, existing state schools were given more freedom and independence under the status of Grant Maintained schools. In 2000, Academies were established – like City Technology Colleges, they are independent state schools in deprived areas, with sponsors from business and education. In 2005 the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, expanded the Academy programme, citing charter schools in the United States and Free Schools in Sweden as a model for the UK.
Free Schools are also inspired by the charter school programme in the United States and the Free School programme in Sweden
Free Schools were established by the coalition Government in 2010. They are state funded (per pupil) but operate free from local authority control. Winchester MP Steve Brine is establishing an exploratory group to examine the possibilities for opening a free school in the city. If you would like to be involved - and have some time to help on this potentially exciting project - please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
What can you do / where can you find out more?
Do you have a local issue you would like to campaign on alongside Steve Brine? Get in touch today - see here.