Warning over lack of classrooms

‘Bulge’ classes planned by council as new free school is opposed, reports James Cracknell

Willowfield Humanities College in Blackhorse Road (credit Google)

Willowfield Humanities College in Blackhorse Road is one of the borough’s newest secondary schools, having opened in September 2015, but more capacity now needs to be built (credit Google)

Waltham Forest Council is scrambling to ensure there are enough classrooms available for children starting secondary school in September 2019.

A council report published last month revealed there are 137 additional pupils who will need to be accommodated by the borough’s secondary schools next autumn – for whom there is not enough additional accommodation. So-called “bulge classes” are planned to be provided at some secondary schools before September, which may need to be built. An even greater demand for school places is expected in 2020 and beyond, with either new schools or expansions of existing schools required to keep pace in the long-term.

The problem has arisen because the borough’s primary schools have been significantly expanded in recent years without a corresponding increase in secondary school capacity. But the council is also opposing the construction of a new ‘free school’ in Leyton – Barclay Secondary School – because they say it is not in the right location to address the classroom shortage.

Councillor Grace Williams, the council’s cabinet member for children and young people, said: “Providing a decent quality education that sets our young people up for success and enables them to make the most of their life chances is a top priority. The council does not support the proposed Barclay Secondary School. The provider has no track record in secondary education and the suggested location is not where additional school places are needed.

“We have a duty to ensure we are able to retain a level of surplus places, to allow parents and guardians to indicate a preference when choosing a school. Early indications suggest that if no additional places are added by September 2019 then our ability to offer a level of preference would be reduced, as the only available places would be in under-subscribed schools.

“We have therefore developed, consulted on, funded and implemented a detailed ‘bulge’ strategy to ensure sufficient places are provided in our existing schools for all Waltham Forest pupils who require one. We are confident in our approach.”

A trade union secretary representing thousands of teachers has warned against health and  safety being compromised. Steve White, secretary for the Waltham Forest branch of the National Education Union, told the Echo: “As a trade union we cannot allow there to be more than 30 pupils per class because of health and safety concerns and because of the workload on teachers.

“There is an irrational system in place at the moment where academies can apply to the Department for Education to build a new school even if it is not in the right area. It is very hard now for local authorities to plan where capacity will go.

“But the council can also be blamed for not foreseeing this problem and for allowing new flats to be built without the right resources in place. They must have had some inclination that this was going to happen.

“In the south of the borough there are some smaller schools that don’t have the physical room to put these new classrooms in – it might be that some children have to make long journeys.”

A spokesperson for Lion Academy Trust, which is currently seeking permission to build Barclay Secondary School, said: “Given the inward investment this school will bring to an area in dire need of regeneration, we would hope to work with the council.”