No demand for new primary school from Harpenden parents

Demolition taking place ready for the construction of Harpenden Free School

Demolition taking place ready for the construction of Harpenden Free School - Credit: Archant

Parental demand for a new primary free school due to move into Harpenden next September came from areas surrounding the town and not from local residents, a Freedom of Information (FoI) enquiry has revealed.

Campaigners in Harpenden are heralding the release of information about demand for primary schooling following a complaint to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).

The aim of Right School Right Place (RSRP) in pushing for FoI information was to establish the level of demand for a new secondary school in the town from local parents.

Nearly a year ago an FoI request was lodged by David Cairns, of RSRP, asking the Education Funding Agency for evidence of parental demand for the Harpenden Free School.

The agency has continually declined to release information regarding demand for the 420-pupil Harpenden Free School which has been operating in temporary premises elsewhere in the district but is moving to the former Harpenden library site next September.

When David originally sent his FoI request to the agency in November last year, it said information relating to the evidence of demand would not be released as it could potentially “stifle” similar free school applications.

The agency maintained that, “parents may be less likely to fill in survey forms and potential applicants would know that the details of their proposal would become public knowledge, demoralising proposers if they were unsuccessful.”

In response, David tweaked his FoI request, asking for more “general information” on the evidence of demand and which cities, towns and villages parents backing the new school lived in.

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In January this year the agency again refused, warning that “it could deter future applications”.

However following David’s complaint to the ICO, the agency finally backed down and in a letter sent on October 6 said that “given the passage of time the information can now be disclosed”.

It revealed that parental demand for the free primary school came from St Albans, Redbourn, Wheathampstead, Frogmore, Hitchin, Stevenage, New Mill End and Luton.

RSRP supports the need for a new secondary school to serve the town but is unhappy with Herts county council’s proposed location on the corner of Common Lane off Lower Luton Road in Batford, which is currently being reviewed again.

The pressure group is pushing for the school to be built in Wheathampstead or on other Harpenden sites, claiming that is where the demand is.