New school plan is ‘pie in the sky’

Middleton Guardian - - THE LAUGHING BADGER -

FEARS have been raised over ris­ing de­mands for pupil places af­ter the prospect of a much-needed new high school open­ing by 2020 was branded ‘pie in the sky’.

Al­tus Ed­u­ca­tion Part­ner­ship, which runs Rochdale Sixth Form Col­lege, has ap­plied to the De­part­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion (DfE) un­der its Wave 13 pro­gramme to cre­ate a new free-school on graz­ing land in Bowlee, Mid­dle­ton.

The new school is needed as pupil num­bers in the town­ship are ris­ing sig­nif­i­cantly and a short­fall of up to 201 school places is pre­dicted by 2021 - while pupil num­bers across the bor­ough could be as high as 365 by 2023.

But a gov­ern­ment de­ci­sion on whether to fund a free school at the site - and to which provider - is not now due un­til af­ter Christ­mas.

And it may not agree to a school open­ing un­til 2021 - or later.

Fay Davies, schools or­gan­i­sa­tion man­ager at Rochdale Coun­cil, told a cab­i­net meet­ing that the DfE will only grant a free school if that school can be filled - a re­quire­ment that won’t be ful­filled by the pro­posed 180-place-peryear Bowlee school un­til 2021.

She added that Al­tus - which is un­der­stood to no longer be the only provider show­ing in­ter­est in the site - had been ad­vised by the DfE to ap­ply to open in 2021 as it was ‘more likely to be given the go-ahead’.

Coun­cil­lor Sara Row­botham, the deputy coun­cil leader who rep­re­sents North Mid­dle­ton, voiced her con­cerns over the de­lay.

She said: “I’m wor­ried that class­room sizes will be ab­so­lutely enor­mous for how­ever long it is, it’s not just us that are be­ing held to ran­som, but the chil­dren, fam­i­lies and teach­ers held to ran­som by the gov­ern­ment in this sit­u­a­tion.

“It seems to be there is go­ing to be an aw­ful lot of pres­sure in those school en­vi­ron­ments for any­thing up to three years.”

Coun­cil­lor Neil Em­mott, who rep­re­sents West Mid­dle­ton, echoed her re­marks.

He said: “What does con­cern me, which is an is­sue raised by peo­ple in com­mu­nity, is the in­or­di­nate amount of time this seems to be tak­ing.

“We have been work­ing to­wards hav­ing a school on the site by Septem­ber 2020, but if I’m hon­est that’s pie in the sky.

“We are nearly at the end of 2018 and we are go­ing to have a de­ci­sion in the New Year on land that needs to be cleared, built upon, all kinds of things we will have to do.”

He added: “What safe­guards do we have in place to en­sure chil­dren reach­ing se­condary school age will have a school place in Mid­dle­ton?”

Ms Davies told the meet­ing that the coun­cil had al­ready em­barked on a school en­large­ment process, ex­pand­ing Mid­dle­ton Tech­nol­ogy Col­lege and Car­di­nal Lan­g­ley RC High School by 60 and 30 places re­spec­tively, as well as cre­at­ing 60 new places at Sid­dall Moor from 2019.

She added that there was also a short­age in the Pen­nines and Rochdale town­ship, with Kingsway Park High, Falinge Park and Matthew Moss high schools also in­creas­ing their places.

“As a coun­cil we have ex­panded all the schools we can,” she said.

Gail Hop­per, di­rec­tor of chil­dren’s ser­vices, added that work was go­ing on be­hind the scenes in case the DfE did not agree to fund a new school in Mid­dle­ton.

The coun­cil had pre­vi­ously named Al­tus as its pre­ferred provider for the Bowlee site, as well as a site at Lit­tle­bor­ough Play­ing Fields, which War­dle School Academies Trust has now ex­pressed an in­ter­est in.

But un­der the Wave 13 rules, the cab­i­net has had to agree to pro­vide a let­ter to the DfE con­firm­ing it will lease both parcels of land to which­ever bid­der is suc­cess­ful.

Coun Em­mott said this was nec­es­sary but was done with some re­luc­tance. He said: “I would be dis­ap­pointed if some­one other than Al­tus can sweep in and build a school there be­cause they are a val­ued part­ner we’ve worked with for many many years.”

Coun Row­botham

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