More school places aimed at easing St Albans schools crisis

A NEW reception class form of entry is being made available in a St Albans primary school in a bid to ease the pressure on places.

The additional places will be at Killigrew Primary School in Chiswell Green from September but many of the beleagured city centre parents without a place for their child at any of their three ranked schools believe it is not close enough to ease their plight.

And the county council’s executive member for education Richard Thake, while welcoming the additional places, admitted that it was extremely unlikely that the situation in St Albans could be resolved this year.

Ninety four of the 200 children in the district, who did not get a place at one of their ranked schools, live in the city centre but have been allocated places at Margaret Wix or Mandeville, some way from their homes and a long way to walk for those without cars.

Although an additional 21 places were found for city centre children after the first round of continuing interest last week, a number of those were allocated the new places at Killigrew.

One of the parents without a place for her daughter close to her home, Ellie Smith, pointed out the obvious problem: “I still can’t walk to it and it would mean walking past five or six closer schools to get there.”

But Cllr Thake said this week that he hoped it would have “a reverse ripple” effect by taking children who lived nearby and freeing up places elsewhere.

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He described the agreement by Killigrew to take another 30 children as, “a step in the right direction for an area experiencing an unprecedented increase in demand” and said County Hall planners were assessing every primary school in the area with the potential for enlargement to ensure that they were being used to their full potential.

But he pointed out that regulations for reception age children were so strict that they could not afford to admit over 30 children in a class and the only long-term solution was a new school which, even should a site be found that was affordable, would not ease the situation for several years.

He explained that despite education officers carrying out a complete overhaul of numbers of children in the county requiring primary places between late summer and Christmas, they still found there were about five per cent additional children of primary school age who had not appeared in their figures.

He went on: “We have got this huge net inward migration into Hertfordshire, into a densely-urbanised area, and these children were not visible.”

As a result the county council had agreed to borrow over �82 million over three to five years to build new schools in the county and officers were working closely with St Albans council to try and identify suitable sites in the district.

He went on: “We are right up against the buffers in terms of pressure on places, money and urban space which is at a premium.”

Cllr Thake admitted that by increasing three city centre schools – Aboyne Lodge, St Peter’s and Maple – by a form of entry in 2007, an unprecedented number of siblings had got priority for places which the county council had probably not anticipated. “It was an unintended consequence and a lesson learned but it is our policy to find good local schools, particularly at primary level, for local children.”

And he added: “I think we are confident the situation will improve but it is going to be a step too far to resolve it this year.”