Derwentwater Parents Vote Against School Expansion

Plan dubbed 'inconsistent, inequitable, expedient and bad policy'

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Parents voted strongly against proposals to increase the size of Derwentwater Primary at a school meeting last Friday.

Although the meeting was called at short notice and held during working hours, it was attended by a large number of parents anxious to hear the arguments for the proposed expansion.

The school is the most congested in Acton and was only recently assessed by Ealing Council as being unsuitable for permanent expansion. The Council now plans a temporary seven year expansion – which parents argue is a contradiction in terms.

The Council team - which included Programme Manager for Primary Places Laurence Field, Project Support Officer Holly Morgan-Smith and Consultant Ian Smith - explained that there was a London-wide shortage of primary school places.

The Team said that demand for places in Acton was unprecedented – and that in such a situation difficult decisions are having to be made. The Council has a statutory duty to provide places for all children in the area and Derwentwater is one of the most over-subscribed local schools.

However, in a question-and-answer session parents raised important concerns about the plans. In particular, parents wanted to know why other schools were not being considered. One parent called the plans “expedient” and last-minute response to Ealing’s problems.

Parents found the council’s plans inconsistent, inequitable and poorly-explained. Some said they were simply bad policy.

Questions were also asked why a new Catholic primary school with a borough-wide catchment area is being proposed when there is such an urgent local problem.

Parents said they were worried about the impact additional pupils would have on the school's infrastructure. They argued that the school hall and dining areas were already too small for the number of pupils at the school and cannot easily be expanded.

The council officers stated that the plans had been carefully developed during a consultation process and that the decision had been made in part to avoid children having to make long commutes to other schools. They stated that all the schools in the area were considered as part of the consultation with further bulges in pupil demand being predicted. However they re-iterated that at present no definite decisions have been made. A final decision is likely to take place in May.

Parents at the meeting argued that there was still a lack of detail on why other less congested schools in the area have not been considered as options for expansion.

With Acton and Ealing being a key marginal seat, and the school representing a voting block of more than a thousand parents from Acton Central Ward, the row is already becoming a hotly contested political issue locally and the meeting was well-attended by local politicians, including Cllr Vlod Barchuk who is a governor at the school, Patricia Walker (Shadow Cabinet member for Childrens' Services at Ealing Council), Bassam Mahfouz, Labour parliamentary candidate for Ealing Central and Acton and Abdullah Gulaid who is a governor at Southfield School and a Labour Party Council candidate.

As they say – this one is set to run and run.

March 24, 2010