As most parents with primary aged children already know from various meetings with Richmond Council, next year the Council needs to create some seven additional reception classes across the borough. Locally Orleans Infant School, St Mary’s CE Primary School and Chase Bridge Primary School are all going to take an additional class. It appears there are still 50 children in the TW1 postcode without places. According to Matthew Paul, Deputy Head of Commissioning, Delivery and Service Improvement;

“This year, due in part to the recession, demand has increased to the point that the shortfall in places compared with normal capacity of 1,937 is over 200. We have therefore provided seven additional reception classes across the borough, including one each at Chase Bridge Primary and at Orleans Infant. The take-up rate from birth (i.e. the number of children born in the area, plus those who have moved in, whose parents want state school places for them) has increased this year from 70% to 78%.”

Here is the full letter to St Mary’s CE Primary School from the Council.

ADDITIONAL RECEPTION CLASS AT ST MARY’S, 2009/2010

I am writing in regard to the kind decision of the school’s Governing Body to accommodate an additional Reception class at the Infants’ site for the 2009/2010 school year. My letter sets out the reasons why we, as the Council, made the request to the Governors and will, I hope, provide you with some reassurance concerning the impact that the additional class will have.

The Council has a duty, under Section 14 of the Education Act 1996, to provide state school places for all in-borough children whose parents request them.

Between 2000 and 2007, the number of live births in the borough rose by 21%, from 2,384 to 2,884, and Richmond Borough’s primary schools were top of the national Key Stage 2 league tables throughout those years. As a result, demand for places in reception increased by 200 pupils in that period, with a large leap in numbers in 2007, which has increased in both subsequent years.

This year, due in part to the recession, demand has increased to the point that the shortfall in places compared with normal capacity of 1,937 is over 200. We have therefore provided seven additional reception classes across the borough, including one each at Chase Bridge Primary and at Orleans Infant. The take-up rate from birth (i.e. the number of children born in the area, plus those who have moved in, whose parents want state school places for them) has increased this year from 70% to 78%.

Although we have secured funding to create five planned forms of entry, including one via the conversion of St Stephen’s and Orleans Infant into two-form entry primary schools, we do not have funding for any further permanent expansions of existing schools. Similarly, we do not have funding, or secured sites, for any new primary schools. We will, though, continue to lobby the Government for additional funding.

The pupil forecasts that we produced last September, based on the birth data and the ‘take-up rate from birth’, indicated that the shortfall of primary school places would mean that we would require two additional Reception classes in 2009/2010. We therefore arranged well in advance for extra classes to be provided at Holy Trinity and St Mary’s and St Peter’s, as precursors to their planned permanent expansion. As demand, exacerbated by the recession, was subsequently higher than our forecasts indicated that it would be, we could see that we would need further extra classes and so we arranged for extra classes at Chase Bridge and St Elizabeth’s. Before deciding if any further classes were needed, we needed to see how quickly – or not – the waiting lists would move compared with previous years. It soon became apparent that, despite the provision of those four additional classes at the initial allocations stage in March, the waiting lists were moving very slowly and that more places would be needed if they did not start moving more quickly. In considering that movement, we had to balance the cost of extra classes against the likely situation in September, i.e. we do not want to provide further extra classes if, by September, the waiting lists would have moved to the extent that the extra classes would be only half full. However we have provided two further classes, at Lowther and at Orleans Infant.

Since the closing-date in December 2008, we have received 150 late applications, many of which were submitted since we made the initial allocations in March 2009, and which have added considerably to the pressure on places. The School Admissions Code does not allow us to prioritise ‘on-time’ applicants over ‘late’ applicants; and the High Court judgement against Greenwich Council in 1989 makes it unlawful to reserve places solely or mainly for in-borough applicants. Due to legislation which limits class-sizes to no more than 30 (with limited exceptions) within key stage 1, we are unable just to slot children in here and there to make classes of 31, 32, or 33 pupils, despite the fact that some schools would be willing to do this.

Before the St Mary’s Governors their decision, we still had 80 in-borough children unplaced (i.e. they had applied – either on time or late – but we had been unable to meet any of their preferences or offer them an alternative place), we needed another Reception class in the TW1 (Twickenham/St Margarets) area, where unmet demand was most heavily concentrated. The remainder of the unplaced children will be offered places from waiting lists for other schools. In considering how best to provide places for the unplaced children in TW1, we looked at several options, including providing a second extra Reception class at Orleans Infant, or a Reception class at St Stephen’s, as a precursor to its proposed conversion into a two-form entry primary school in September 2010; but, after exploration of those ideas with the schools concerned, none of those options appeared to be realistic in comparison with the proposal to make a request to the Governing Body at St Mary’s.

We are sorry that we made our request to the Governors so late in the school year and we are extremely grateful to them for having considered the matter and then having agreed to it. We have provided all requisite assurances to the Governors concerning the funding that the school will receive in order to provide the facilities for the extra class and to mitigate the knock-on effects that it will have. Past experience has shown that when schools have accommodated extra classes there has been no adverse effect upon educational standards or the welfare of the children and staff within the school.

The parents of the children who will be offered places in the extra class all stated preferences – most of them as their first preference – for St Mary’s and they are therefore aware of the school’s ethos and values. They are also all living within Twickenham area. I am sure that those parents will be very grateful to have received offers of places at the school.

Finally, I must reiterate my grateful thanks, on behalf of the Council, to the Governing Body and staff of the school, who I know will do a superb job in educating both these extra children and all the other children within the school.

If you have any queries in relation to this letter, please contact me.

Yours sincerely,

Matthew Paul, Deputy Head of Commissioning, Delivery and Service Improvement