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On Toby Young's Telegraph Blog today he puts himself firmly behind the Derwentwater parents who are unanimously campaigning against an Ealing Council plan to increase the intake of pupils at the school from September this year by installing a portakabin in their already overcrowded playground.

We are reprinting his blog in full below :

Last night in the Rocket, a pub in Acton, a group of angry parents met to discuss how to fight Ealing Council’s plan to stick a Portakabin in the playground of Derwentwater Primary School. Derwentwater is a three form entry school — that is to say, it is already the most cramped school in Acton. Ealing’s plan is to stick a Portakabin in the playground, enabling the school to admit an extra class in 2010 and possibly in 2011 as well. If you include Derwentwater Nursery, this will take the number of children at the school up to 785, making it larger than the secondary school I’m trying to set up. The effect of this expansion on the children already at the school is neatly illustrated by this YouTube video (see box, right) made by one of the Derwentwater parents.

The parents’ fury is directed at Ealing Council, which is understandable, but the local authority has been wrong-footed by the unanticipated baby boom. Between 2004-06, births in Ealing jumped from 4,643 to 5,007 and last year rose to 5,445. This is a nationwide phenomenon, as the Telegraph reported last week. Britain will need to find an additional more 549,000 primary school places within the next eight years to cope with the increased demand:

According to projections published yesterday by the Department for Children, Schools and Families, there are currently 3,992,000 pupils aged under 11 in state-funded nursery and primary schools.

It said numbers were expected to grow year-on-year to 4,541,000 in 2018 – an additional 549,000. It will be the biggest number of pupils in the system since the late-70s.

The rise would be equivalent to around 2,300 average-sized primary schools, or an additional 18,300 classes of 30 pupils.

Projecting future births is an inexact science and most local authorities will, like Ealing, be looking at temporary solutions. After all, Ealing doesn’t want to build any new primary schools in Acton if the expanding birth rate is a blip rather than a long-term trend. But if the mood at the Rocket yesterday is anything to go by, parents simply won’t stand for Portakabins being put in school playgrounds, particularly if there are no guarantees that they won’t become permanent structures.

A more practical solution would be to take the problem off Ealing Council’s hands by allowing parent groups to set up schools themselves and lease the premises. If the birth rate remains high, they could continue to lease the buildings; if it starts to fall, they could end the leases and close the schools. Not as cheap as sticking Portakabins in school playgrounds, perhaps, but a good deal cheaper than building new schools.

The difficulties being experienced by the Derwentwater parents is a perfect illustration of the need for a new secondary school in Acton. The demand for more primary school places will shortly translate in a demand for more secondary school places and if no new school is set up to accommodate this demand the Council will have to put Portakabins in the area’s three comprehensive schools, too. My solution — which is to set up a new school in a leased building — is surely preferable. No matter which party wins the general election, the DCSF should allow parent groups to set up schools in leased buildings up and down the country.



March 26, 2010