Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Pop goes the Primary School

A few weeks down the line from when the primary school places allocation was announced here in London, and I am hearing terrible stories about the children who failed to get into their preferred schools. In some cases, here in Haringey, children have been given places outside of the borough, which most probably means children being driven to school, which isn’t great news in terms of air quality, the environmental impact or the health of the child.

One Stroud Green couple found that, despite living just two streets away from their preferred school, their twins have been given their fifth and sixth choices. They are of course appealing, which in itself is a very stressful process, in order to at least get both children into the same school.

Some boroughs have already announced plans to build ‘flat-pack’ classrooms (neighbouring Barnet plans 16, for example), whilst Haringey is apparently in talks with a ‘business mogul’ (it says here), who is thinking of setting up a so-called ‘free school’.

I am not sure what the answer is (though I don’t think it’s free schools, and there are only so many extra classrooms a school can build), but the problem is set to get worse. The number of pupils in state primary schools is projected to increase about 14% from 3.96 million last year to 4.5 million by 2018. Statistics from the Department for Education show that the rise is steepest in London. Between 2009 and 2014, the capital's population aged between five and 10 will rise by about 16%. In the rest of the country, it will grow by about 12%.

I am reminded of a quotation from Hardy’s ‘Jude the Obscure’: ‘ we are too many.’ Yes, I know it’s rich for me to say that when I’m currently concentrating on my own ‘population expansion project’ (though I absolutely guarantee I’m stopping at two!) but I can’t help but think that London, where the problem of school place shortages (not to mention housing shortages!) is at its worst, is simply ‘full up’. To an extent the capital is a victim of its own success. I’m certainly not suggesting any solutions, but instead highlighting a problem that we ignore at our peril.

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