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Redbridge sees 6,600 school places created in four years

09:00 30 August 2014

Jas Athwal, leader of the council

Jas Athwal, leader of the council

Archant

Demand for school places in Redbridge has seen a sharp rise, leaving the council with the difficult task of increasing capacity while battling £70million worth of budget cuts.

Redbridge Council has spent or earmarked more than £180m to increase places at both primary and secondary level, creating 6,605 since September 2010, with a further 3,570 proposed up to September 2016.

Five new primary schools have been opened and further places created through the expansion of 12 schools.

One secondary has been built since 2010, and five more extended.

Cllr Jas Athwal, leader of Redbridge Council, said: “First and foremost it’s our statutory duty to make sure we provide places for every child.

“We are victims of our own success because we have some very high performing schools. Every parent wants the best for their child and they see Redbridge as a fantastic place because the schools are so good. Our ambition is to keep providing school places and maintain the high quality of education.”

This ambition will see more than 3,000 places created across the borough in the next two years, after which more will need to be found, presenting the Labour administration with several problems.

Cllr Athwal said the first problem is space – much of the north of the borough is green belt land.

He also claims the coalition government’s free school policy has reduced the ability of councils to direct the creation of new schools to areas of need.

Cllr Athwal said: “We, as a council, cannot build schools. However it’s our statutory duty to provide school places. It would be great for us to be able to build schools because we know the area best but what we have to do is wait for a provider to come along who wants to build a school. We still facilitate and we have a major role to play.

“If we have demand, as the current law stands you could have a request for a free school or an academy.

“We, as a council, while we are still responsible for the children who go into those schools, we are not responsible for those schools. We are driven by the market.

“In any sort of business model, you need the whole thing to be consistent and sometimes the needs of a business venture are not consistent with the needs of education. We have to marry the two and make sure we end up with what is best for the children.”

Maintaining standards of education while creating room for more seats is another challenge.

Isaac Newton Academy, which opened in 2012 creating 1,250 places, was rated “outstanding” by Ofsted inspectors earlier this year.

Cllr Athwal said: “About £181m has been spent to create new schools or expand existing ones – it’s a massive amount of money. It’s not just created new classrooms but new facilities.”

The money has come from a number of revenue streams – including central government grants and the council.

Despite £70m of cuts required in the next four years, Cllr Athwal said education would remain a priority: “We can’t cut education, we can’t cut children’s services, we can’t cut adults social services. Not because we have a statutory duty – we have a moral obligation to educate our children and look after our elderly. That’s a basic need of any society.”

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