Sunday, 15 November 2009

School Places - a Burning Issue in Elmbridge

The issue local residents have raised with me most consistently over the last few weeks is school places. Parents across Elmbridge are growing increasingly frustrated. Whilst there are challenges for some primaries, the burning issue is the capacity of local secondaries.

I was lucky enough to go to a grammar school. I owe everything to the educational opportunity I had, so I can appreciate that nothing is more important for local parents than school choice. Last Friday, I visited Sarah Whittaker who runs Claygate Class Action, a parents group campaigning for school places in Claygate (see left). Sarah and Andrew Patterson, Chairman of the Board of Governors of Claygate primary school, briefed me on their campaign to secure adequate places at Esher High and Hinchley Wood for children from Claygate primary.

The pressure on school places is a good illustration of the poor deal on local funding that Surrey gets from the Treasury. But, concerns have also been directed at the handling of the issue by the County Council. As your MP, I would fight this battle on three fronts. First, as part of a wider campaign for fairer local funding in return for the £5.5 billion Surrey’s exasperated taxpayers give the Treasury each year. Second, as a mediator between the local communities affected and Surrey County Council. And third, Elmbridge is fertile ground for more radical educational reform under a Conservative government. That is what we need to provide a lasting solution. David Cameron has set out plans to allow parents, charities and faith groups to expand good schools – and establish new schools – with resources, but less meddling, from Whitehall. I would work to support and properly tailor these reforms - based on the Swedish system - to the particular needs of Elmbridge.

Later that evening, I dropped in on Councillor John Sheldon at Hersham Youth Centre (see below). Up and running for seven years, the centre offers activities – computer access, pool tables, DJ decks, karaoke, board games – to around eighty youngsters between eleven and eighteen. Funded by grants, daytime rents and fund-raising, it provides a focal point for young people in the neighbourhood. It would be worthwhile in its own right, but about 40% of the older children are excluded from school, so the centre provides positive distraction for youngsters who might otherwise get into trouble. Want the proof? On the night the centre was set up in 2002, police reported that 999 calls complaining about anti-social behaviour dropped by 40%.


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Ian said...

Environmental sustainability should be a key consideration in both the location of schools and their admission policies. Schools should be built near the pupils and locality should be the overriding selection criteria for all types of schools.

School buildings last over 100 years when both oil will run-out and we need to have an 80% reduction in CO2.

Anonymous said...

Claygate are not the only area in the Esher/Walton with anxieties about school places - they are just fortunate enough to have had a conservative councillor to fight their corner. Parents in Molesey feel very strongly that their school was taken from them and they don't have school place security - even under the new admission criteria coming into place for 2011. Molesey was not pleased at Claygate Class Action's ability to secure ringfenced places - perhaps speak to schools in Molesey too as some of them put up a reasoned arguement for Molesey places.

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