No new schools planned but several ‘bulge’ classes being provided instead, reports James Cracknell
Waltham Forest Council has agreed to invest £86million on expanding schools across the borough over the next four years – including several new temporary classrooms.
The council has long been struggling to meet existing demand for schools places in the borough, and is now also aiming for 27,000 new homes to be built over the next 15 years. At a cabinet meeting last month, the Labour administration set out plans for a series of temporary and permanent school expansions for primary and secondary pupils.
There are currently no plans for any new schools to be built, after a proposal for two schools on the site of an industrial depot in Lea Bridge Road – a site deemed unsuitable by councillors – was rejected in 2019.
Between 2007 and 2020, extra capacity for 36 permanent “forms of entry” was provided in borough primary schools, incorporating 73 temporary classrooms, and an additional ten forms of entry in secondary schools. Approximately 100 extra pupil places will be needed before September 2021 on current projections – with so-called “bulge” (temporary) classes incorporated at Leytonstone, Norlington and Kelmscott schools to meet demand. The council still needs to create further temporary classes at Willowfield School in Blackhorse Road, Walthamstow and Buxton School in Cann Hall Road, Leytonstone.
Introducing the council’s new schools capital investment programme, Grace Williams, cabinet member for children, told councillors: “We’ve got a really good track record on delivering for our school projects, whether it’s building or maintenance work.”
Proposals to expand six other secondary schools will be developed over the next four years. Cllr Williams added: “We can use our own schools, expanding them when needed and contracting them when not, which has been a really successful strategy. It includes some innovative projects.”
A council report explained that the strategy of developing a mix of temporary and permanent expansions was developed to meet “fluctuating” demand. It said: “A further issue is the unpredictability of academy and free school activity, which is managed by central government. The strategy is designed to avoid the risk of over-expanding and placing additional revenue strains upon schools.”
Also included within the £86m investment are plans for a new £18m “high needs unit” at a council-owned site in North Birkbeck Road, Leytonstone, designed for “students excluded from mainstream schools who are unlikely to return”. It comes after the council’s existing pupil referral unit – Burnside in South Chingford – was described by the council’s director of learning last year as “the worst building in the borough”.