A NEW free school for 900 pupils is being planned to address the ‘significant and urgent need’ for additional secondary school provision within Tunbridge Wells borough.
The news comes in the same week that the National Union of Teachers (NUT) has warned that because of Government funding cuts around 100 classroom jobs across local schools could be axed.
Kent County Council (KCC) voted last week to approve plans for education between now and 2021.
Proposals for a new secondary school follow concerns that a growing pupil population, alongside new residential developments, will ‘necessitate a significant increase in demand’ for spaces at both a primary and secondary level. No site has yet been designated for the school.
The county council is in discussions with the Education Funding Agency and Department for Education over any applications to set up free schools that may have been made before September 28 last year.
The desired capacity for the school, scheduled to be delivered as soon as next year,. is 900 places. In total, 1500 additional secondary school places will need to be found in Tunbridge Wells by 2021 with 600 places being provided through the expansion of existing schools.
Free schools were first introduced by the coalition government in 2010 and relate to schools that are state funded but not controlled by a local authority, much like academies.
Charities, groups of teachers, existing schools and parents can set up these new schools if they can prove that they are needed and wanted by a local community.
Speaking to the Times Roger Gough, Cabinet Member for Education & Health Reform at KCC, said: “We have been working closely with both the Borough Council and the Education Funding Agency about all aspects of securing a new secondary school in Tunbridge Wells, including site identification, for 2018-19.
“However, we do have concerns about the potential timing of delivery, given all the processes involved such as site acquisition, identification of a sponsor, planning, building the school, and whether they can be delivered in the right sequence and in time, though nothing is certain yet.”
Councillor Alan McDermott, Cabinet member with responsibility for Planning and Transportation at Tunbridge Wells Borough Council confirmed the local authority was working with KCC.
He said: “The indication is that we are likely to need a new secondary school in the borough and we will work closely with our colleagues at KCC to achieve that.”
Union warns about education cuts
The National Union of Teachers estimate that, due to government funding cuts, more than 100 teachers will be lost across key schools in the borough, as they see over £4million cut from their budgets.
Using Department of Education statistics, the union calculated the impact of three recent government policies: the cash freeze on the amount of funding for each pupil, the proposed cut to the Education Services Grant and the planned introduction of a National Funding Formula.
In total, £2.2million will be lost from secondary schools in the borough, the equivalent to £362 per pupil or 57 full-time teachers. A further £2million will be lost from primary schools, the same as employing 51 teachers or £326 less to spend per pupil.
The worst hit school in the borough is Skinners’ Kent Academy, who are expected to lose £635,132 in their 2019/20 annual budget, in comparison to 2015/16. This is the equivalent of losing 15 teachers or £753 per pupil.
In December, Education Secretary Justine Greening announced the new national funding formula for schools from 2018-19, saying it would resolve ‘unfair’ and ‘inconsistent’ funding levels.
But a spokesperson for the NUT said: “Unless the Government allocates additional money, schools and academies will lose huge amounts in real terms cuts — rising to £3 billion a year in real terms by 2020. Head teachers are already speaking of the impossible job they have to balance the books and offer the best education for all children. Yet there is worse to come.
“Under the Government’s new funding formula we estimate that 98% of schools could lose out. These cuts will hurt us all.”