Avenue Primary School forced to be super-sized by Sutton Council
A popular primary school will become one of the largest in the country after Sutton Council forces it to expand to combat a school place crisis.
Avenue Primary School, in Sutton, is set to become a super-sized primary school with 932 pupils even though the school’s governors unanimously agreed they were against its further expansion.
Some parents have started a petition against the council's decision to make the school take five reception classes this September.
Parents have expressed serious concerns about the expansion including playground safety, logistical problems and the ability of the school’s facilities to cope.
The eleventh hour expansion is part of a growing crisis surrounding primary school places in Sutton.
Demand is expected to increase from 14,000 primary spaces in September 2011 to 17,000 in September 2016 and many schools are having to expand to fill the gap.
Since September 2011, Avenue Primary's governors have already agreed to three "bulge" classes - one-off extra classes that start in reception and progress through the school but are not permament.
The school also accepted its permanent expansion to four forms of entry starting in September 2013.
However, parents were informed on Thursday last week that the council had told the school it would have to take on a further "bulge" reception class this September.
Many parents believe it is an expansion too far, while in a letter to parents, Jeremy Randall, the chair of governors expressed surprise at being asked to accept another "bulge" class.
He said: "We were concerned about the logistics whilst the building programme to accommodate the permanent expansion progresses, and also the traffic and parking implications in the neighbouring area. We advised the local authority of our decision.
"However, because it has the responsibility to find a place for all eligible pupils, the local authority is able to direct community schools to take additional classes. It has decided to use this power, directing us to take a 5th reception class, and we were notified of this on 17th June."
Jonathan Pritchard, Cheam councillor and a governor at the school, said: "It is unfortunate when a school gets directed to take an additional class by the authority but it is sadly the position the authority is in.
"Some of the concern has been about the impact on transport but I think the extra coming in are in one mile of the school. I’m fairly certain it will work out all right."
From September 2016 the school will have 932 pupils in the school - remaining at that number until 2020 when the 2013 intake leave and they revert to a capacity of 902.
Schools with more than 800 pupils, known as titan schools, are on the increase with the biggest one being Gascoigne Primary School in Barking with 1,200 students and five forms per year group.
The growth of super-size primary schools is down to the baby boom between 2001 and 2011 which was the biggest 10 year increase in birth since the 50s.
Dave Callaghan, chair of Sutton Council’s children, family and education committee, said: "We understand the parents' concerns and we take them very seriously. They should be reassured that all the children who will attend the bulge class live within one mile of the school.
"Avenue is an excellent school that consistently provides the very highest quality education for Sutton’s children, and we will ensure this remains the case. The school will still be a local school for local families."
The council would not directly answer questions when asked about how they were planning to cope with access, facilities or lunch breaks. They also declined to answer whether they had any plans to build more primary schools in the borough.
What the parents say
Chris Langridge, 39, an IT systems engineer from Belmont, has three-year-old twins about to start at the school, he said: "It seems as if it is being forced on [the school] and they have gone ‘OK well we have to go with it’.
"We are really pleased our kids are going there. This is nothing against the school the teachers are fantastic - it is the decision makers at the council that have said you have got to deal with it."
Kate Madel, 41, an interior designer from Belmont, has one child in year one and another due to start this September.
Although she has accepted the place for her youngest she is now considering moving both children to smaller schools.
She said: "When I heard there was a fifth form I felt a bit cheated. It’s a great school and the teachers do a fantastic job. But the school is not designed for that many people."
Naomi Hafeez, 40, has sent all four of her children to Avenue but applied late for her fifth child and only found out on Monday that she had a school place - in Avenue's fifth bulge class.
She said: "I must say I was opposed to it last time - but people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.
"Now I’m one of the parents of a child that had no place at school for September so I have seen both sides."
Dominique Young, 35, a mum-of-two and teacher from Belmont, was concerned that parents had not been given enough information and said: "For a four-year-old being one of 150 is very daunting. There are going to be a lot of little fish in an exceptionally big pond."
Fiona Franklin, a full-time mum, has one child in year one and one who will start next year she said: "I feel it is really dangerous and I’ve emailed the council. There are too many children in the playground. I think it is a recipe for disaster."
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