Leigh catchment areas for the three local popular schools could be altered

By Times Reporter in Community News

LEIGH has been split down the middle with the threat that the catchment areas for the three local popular schools could be altered - exclusively revealed by this newspaper..

This could have a two-pronged effect for families – with the prospect of them not being able to choose the schools they thought would have a right to, and a plunge in their house prices.

Families now face an anxious time until the end of the year while the council presents its proposals – and although the council have asked them to be patient parents have already begun their protests.

Around 20 turned up at Iveagh Hall last week, where Sir David Amess was holding his surgery, but he could not do anything as he had his regular surgery to attend to.

Blenheim Coun James Courtenay, who has the education portfolio on Southend Council, was present, however, and talked with the parents.

Debra Dewhurst, of Southsea Avenue, spoke for many parents when she commented: “Under the pre-proposal Southend Council wish to move 55% of Leigh North Street’s current catchment out to schools the other side of the London Road due to foreseeable oversubscription issues.

“They plan to take all roads north of Pall Mall and Glendale - up to Southsea - away from North Street. This will have a devastating effect on our community, increase the traffic ten-fold, not to mention pollution levels and we have every fear for our children’s safety.”

This is just the opening shot from parents in what promises to be a long and bitter battle.

Coun Courtenay told this newspaper: “The report to cabinet contained detailed draft documentation, but to clarify this documentation does not represent what our final solutions for pre-consultation will be. We are planning a meaningful and detailed two-stage consultation process.”

* More details of the consultation programme –

LEIGH’ s three main schools, West Leigh, Leigh North Street and Chalkwell are now so popular and this, coupled with a recent boost in the birth rate, means that parents in the existing catchment areas could find it impossible to get their children into these schools in future.

Southend Council are, therefore, launching a consultation on a proposal to solve the situation by reducing the size of the catchment areas for these schools while increasing the catchment areas for neighbouring schools Darlinghurst and Eastwood Primary while moving the borders of Blenheim and Fairways - so that they can take the pressure of the other schools.

Southend Council’s cabinet were told last week: “From 2019 onwards, forecast data for Southend, taken from births and trends in admission, predict that there are specific risk areas where meeting catchment preferences are likely to worsen over the coming years, Leigh causing the greatest immediate concern.

“The overall births for the cluster are usually in the region of 550 to 600 with 660 places currently available. However births and forecasting data from 2019 onwards have now overtaken catchment places in West Leigh, Leigh North Street and Chalkwell Hall.

“The majority of schools within the Leigh area are community schools and as such the local authority is responsible for consulting on any proposed changes for these schools including catchment areas.

“The reasoning behind a catchment consultation for this area is to increase the future likelihood of a parent having a reasonable expectation for admission to their catchment school in the south Leigh area, which from 2019 will be slim for those living furthest from the school.

“Schools affected by the proposed changes are both community and own admission authority and therefore would require consent of all parties to implement any change.”

The council’s cabinet was told that two models were considered.

The proposed changes identified in Model A evidence shrinking the catchment areas of West Leigh, Leigh North Street and Chalkwell Hall, increasing the catchment area of Darlinghurst Primary and Eastwood Primary and moving the borders of Blenheim and Fairways.

The areas have been determined by calculating existing pupil numbers to ensure the movement will provide adequate places for future needs. The lines have also been aligned to existing roads to ensure where possible, catchments are aligned to postcode rather than street number.

Model B had less support from school leaders but still provided a solution to ensuring school places were distributed fairly and reasonably and would not require further changes to catchment if population numbers significantly change again.

SOUTHEND Council have made it clear in the catchment area debate that ‘the option to do nothing is not available to us.’

Coun James Courtenay, who has the education portfolio, explained: “The catchment area is currently and will continue to be for the foreseeable future oversubscribed (in double figures).

“This problem has been getting worse over recent years and guidance from the Office of the Schools Adjudicator has indicated that the council/school leave themselves open for challenge if they have a catchment area that isn’t suitable for the school.

“It is important to clarify that full information on these solutions, including maps and proposed arrangements for all affected primary schools have not yet been agreed or finalised.

“We anticipate that they will be finalised by mid-July, at which point they will be made widely available to the public as the pre-consultation period begins. To request this information once available, email schoolcatchment@southend.gov.uk

His statement went on: “ All councils are often, sometimes rightly, accused of undertaking consultations which don’t mean very much. Therefore, to ensure that this was NOT the case with any change to the West Leigh Schools Catchment area I was conscious that we undertook a full and meaningful consultation.

“Indeed, I have gone further than that. There are restrictions on the Council as to how a formal consultation takes place, therefore I have asked for there to be two-staged consultation. The first stage, a ‘listening and engagement/pre-consultation’ doesn’t have the same level of restrictions on it, which means that parents, carers, the school, your local councillors etc can be meaningfully engaged with the process.

“During this phase, not only can the draft proposals - which may well change from what you may have seen, even before we ‘pre-consult’ on them - be commented on, have changes suggested, but also those affected might have their own ideas to put forward.”

He goes on to say that the council will run small local meetings - much more helpful than a big meeting which often doesn’t help us progress things forward, he says - to discuss the draft solutions that will be circulated nearer the time.

“By virtue of having contacted me I will ensure you are put on the list to receive this information, Coun Courtenay stressed. If any of your fellow residents/parents/carers/friends etc wish to receive this information please ask them to contact schoolcatchment@southend.gov.uk

He went on to say that this will not be a quick process, and whilst he could understand the apprehension of some parents/carers who may be affected by any changes, by the end of the process everyone will have had their chance to put their views and before the matter is presented by him and council officers to the cabinet for a final decision in 2018 they will have listened to all of them.

He concluded: “Whilst I will defend parents’ rights to undertake their own public meetings, protests and campaigns against any proposed changes, I would suggest that these may be a little premature. Efforts would be best steered towards reviewing the proposals put out for pre-consultation and engaging with the process. At the point which final proposals are put out for formal consultation, then my view may change.

“Finally, I would like to say that, as the executive councillor for children and learning, I had two choices:

“a. Behind closed doors, come up with a fully thrashed out proposal for changes to the catchment area/admissions arrangements. These would then have been sent for formal consultation and it is likely little would have changed.

“b. Have some draft proposals put together and undertake a meaningful discussion with parents/carers of those who would be affected (as well as with your local councillors). Allowing detailed discussions and other’s proposals to be considered.

“I decided upon option b.”

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