Call for new schools in Chorley to address shortfall in places
Two Chorley councillors have called for new schools to be built in the borough to bridge what they claim is a severe shortfall in pupil places.
Mark Clifford and Kim Snape, who sit on both Lancashire County Council and Chorley Council, say that the children of Chorley “deserve better” than being forced to travel to other districts because their local primary and secondary schools are full. They have also demanded details of the extent of the shortfall.
Lancashire County Council, which is the authority responsible for education in the area, insists that there are currently no more than 12 pupils who have moved into the borough and are without a place.
In a letter to County Hall leader Phillippa Williamson - who was the cabinet member in charge of schools until May this year - County Cllrs Clifford and Snape say that the authority has not “kept up with” the fact that Chorley is one of the fastest-growing parts of Lancashire.
According to the government’s housing delivery test, 1,874 new homes were built in the borough between 2017/18 and 2019/20 - 15 percent more than the minimum required under the area’s housing target.
The two Labour councillors say that they have an ever-growing caseload of concerned parents who have been unable to secure a place for their child at their chosen school.
“Too many of our residents are facing the heartbreak of not getting their children into their preferred school - with some not even being offered any of their first three choices,” County Cllr Snape said
“How can it be right, in 2021, that children cannot find a school place and must travel many miles into neighbouring boroughs to access education?”
County Cllr Clifford added: “For the past few years, children and their families from Chorley have been treated like second-class citizens by the Tories at County Hall.
“Children’s education should be the cornerstone of our society and never just an afterthought - new schools must be built in Chorley now,” he said.
Lancashire County Council’s Conservative cabinet member for education and skills, Jayne Rear, said that authority has a “very good track record” of fulfilling its statutory duty to ensure that it provides the right number of school places.
Amongst those applying for places to start school in the county council area in September 2021, 98.7 percent of primary-age pupils and 96.7 percent of those entering secondary education were offered a place at one of their preferred schools.
County Cllr Rear added: “We use a range of data to plan, based on historical levels of population growth, migration and other factors.
"The projected impact of new housing developments that are planned for the next five years in any area is also monitored to make sure that enough school places are available to meet the demand.
"In respect of families moving to Chorley, we are aware of 12 pupils who are currently seeking a school place. Nine of these pupils are currently awaiting the outcome of an appeal for a school that is full.
“For the remaining three pupils, families are being supported by colleagues to facilitate an admission to a school, as a matter of urgency. There are places available for all of these pupils, within a reasonable distance from their home.
"Although all schools in Chorley determine their own admission criteria, we are supporting the families to access a suitable place for their children," County Cllr Rear added.
'PROBLEM ACROSS THE COUNTY'
There are 150 children in Burnley and Pendle without a school place – some of whom have not been in class for more than a year, a council meeting has heard.
Lancashire County Council’s Labour opposition group leader Azhar Ali told the latest full council gathering at County Hall that pupils at both primary and secondary level had been affected by what he described as a “serious problem”.
While he thanked council leader Phillippa Williamson and education and skills cabinet member Jayne Rear for working with him and other members to try to resolve the issue, he said that councillors were now “inundated with people turning up at our doorstep asking why they haven’t got a school place – and it has been over 12 months [that] they have been waiting”.
“There is a major crisis and there’s almost an ignorance at certain levels of this organisation, not the political [level]…that [is] ignoring the plight of these kids. It’s not good enough for up to 150 kids…to be sat at home. That’s not just in Burnley and Pendle – there are issues in Chorley [and] Preston.
“We need urgent action…we need these kids in school, otherwise they are going to fall further back,” County Cllr Ali added.
Burnley Central East county councillor Sobia Malik said that time was of the essence to resolve an issue which risked compounding the challenges already faced by children whose education had been disrupted during the pandemic.
“Not only are they going to have to do the learning, they are going to have to catch up and be mentally confident that they can cope with all of these undertakings.
“How are we helping them by being so remiss in addressing such a pressing issue across the county?” County Cllr Malik asked.
County Cllr Williamson told the meeting that there was “political consensus” about the concerns over school places in Lancashire.
“I think we are are all realistic enough to know that we’re not going to be able to resolve every single one of those issues immediately, but there are some steps that we can take – and that we would like to do – to try and resolve those things.
“I also wanted to recognise that officers are doing a huge amount of work themselves – including following up on each and every case individually to make contact to try and ensure that [children’s] education needs – although [they] might not be in school – are being met at this current time.”