Friday 19 February 2010

More funds needed - but Government promises cuts

The pressure of expanding homes and pupil needs on London schools means that MORE funds are needed to meet the demands. Instead, all the main political parties threaten CUTS. This is a letter I have sent to the South London Press over the pressures in Lewisham:

While the political pressure in Lewisham over recent years has been about a shortage of secondary places, this report confirms that an even bigger 'ticking time-bomb' awaits whoever wins the Council elections - over primary and SEN places.

Teacher unions have been aware of both of these issues for some time. We questioned the Council's predictions for SEN places at the time of our joint campaigns with parents at the time of the Council's SEN Review. We challenged the Council over their decision to reduce Lewisham Bridge Primary school from 2 forms of entry (fe) to 1 form of entry before planning to demolish it - when officers already knew about the rising pressure on primary places.

This report finally sets out the extent of the problem. 255 extra reception places have already had to be created in 10 schools to meet the 2009-10 demand. Now the Council may need to find an extra 17fe (510 places) to meet even greater demand for 2010-11. On top of this, provision for hundreds more children with statements of SEN than originally predicted needs to be found. The report is unable to explain how these needs are going to be met.

However, Lewisham Council has been refused emergency 'safety valve' funding by the Government to pay for extra primary places. The DCSF claim that the existing 'spare' places higher up the primary age ranges meant that Lewisham did not need the money! But that means forcing schools to amalgamate 'mixed age' classes in order to free up space - despite the educational difficulties that this will cause.

Temporary classrooms will also have to be put up in school playgrounds. But this means reducing play space - particularly cutting into early years learning spaces vital for young children's development - at the same time as adding MORE children in a school. Yet already, as the report rightly states "Many Lewisham primary schools do not have outside space which meets minimum recommendations for inner-city schools".

The Council urgently needs to discuss openly with parents, schools and unions about how we can work together to minimise the educational damage from the rising demand on places. Temporary solutions will not be enough. What's clear is that more primary schools will need to be built - but just when a future government may be cutting back on education spending. Together, we need to demand that the Government funds Lewisham Council to meet the needs of its families and children.

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