17 July 2014

School places scrutiny update

On Monday night we held our second Overview and Scrutiny Committee (OSC) meeting since the election. Our work programme this year includes analysing the provision of school places across the borough. So as one of the main agenda items for this meeting we invited the council officers responsible to explain how demand is being met. 

Officers said that Southwark is facing a number of challenges regarding school places. Demand, both primary and secondary places continues to rise.  The council is co-ordinating the expansion of a number of existing schools to address this and there are also several free school proposals which are being progressed.  Further details of this programme can be found in the newly published School Places Strategy Update” .   This programme is being looked at as part of our scrutiny. 
One particular issue of concern is the uncertainty over the future use of the Dulwich Hospital site.  The council has committed to opening a new secondary school there but the DfE and the Education Funding Agency have also given the green light to a “Nunhead” Free Primary School there.  Primary school places in this area are already being provided  through other free school proposals and the expansion of popular existing primary schools, including Ivydale School. 
In short,  this means a new secondary school and a local primary expansion programme is being threatened because the government has thrown a  new school into the mix without consulting either local parents or Southwark council.  Our report will need to address what more can be done by all interested parties to avoid this kind of controversy.  OSC will be talking to parents groups, school sponsors and the Cabinet Member before reaching our conclusions. 
More widely, the OSC report  will make recommendations on how to improve school place provision in Southwark and ensure proposals to meet demand are delivered.  Issues like the “reputation lag” of good schools which remain under-subscribed will form part of this.  We will highlight good and poor case studies of how free school proposals are developed and look at encouraging school sponsors to engage with the council instead of, as sometimes happens,  pulling the shutters down.  We may also carry out our own survey of parents to see what they think of the allocation process, and take a close look at the capital investment programme which will support the expansion of existing schools. 
Members of OSC will be encouraged to contribute as many ideas as possible, but if you would like to make your own suggestion or even just let us know about your experience of school places allocation in the borough, you can email me at gavin.edwards@southwark.gov.uk . I would be very interested to hear from you.