Last week, the Council, in the shape of Matthew Paul, braved a packed hall of parents at St Stephen’s, to explain the 2 form entry plans for Orleans and St Stephen’s.
In brief, to solve issues around pupil capacity and catchment areas, the Council proposes to build 2 new classrooms, plus ancillary buildings, at St Stephen’s and 5 new classrooms at Orleans. Each school will then become a primary school, each with 2 forms serving Reception to Year 7.
Objections centred around three areas. First, how on earth do you squeeze 60 more children into St Stephen’s, especially as Reception classrooms have to be bigger. Second, how can you sensibly conduct building works on such a tiny site. Third, and for many the most important, it will split the community.
Speaking personally, if the proposals had been implemented 10 years ago, all three of my children would never have met their best friends, and we would have not met many of the people we know today. Football at Moormead would be fraught with inter-school rivalry, if it survived in its current form at all.
Yes, it can be a pain having to traipse from school to school. Done it, and patched up the scraped knees from the railway bridge as well.
But do we want to see St Margarets split in two? A lot of people work very hard for us to be seen as a homogeneous community, and not two villages separated by the A316.
The issue is that for full 4 form entry to work with the schools in their current form, Orleans builds only a handful of classrooms, but St Stephen’s need another 4, and frankly, it can’t deal with the 2 proposed.
So I have I radical suggestion: Swap the schools. Make St Stephen’s the infants school, using its existing 12 classrooms, and expand only the Orleans site. There is £5.2 million in the pot for this project, currently allocated £2million to St Stephen’s, and the remaining £3.2million to Orleans. In my scenario, most of that money can go on making a better job of Orleans, with a small amount being used to make St Stephen’s more appealing to the under 7’s. There are no building works, and the school capacity remains sensible.
It also solves the catchment areas issue. The Council contends that North St Margarets residents would not benefit from 4 form entry at Orleans, as it would just widen the net for those in Twickenham and East Twickenham. Well, this places the Infants school catchment area where it should be: In the middle of St Margarets.
Yes, the teachers and children might find the wholesale swap a bit disorienting, but the children will probably recover a lot more quickly than the staff.
I acknowledge there is a pupil placement crisis (not new, but a crisis nonetheless). Finally, money is available to deal with it. Let’s not waste the opportunity to create a proper village school system covering the whole area, instead of drawing a thick line down Broadway Avenue, and sending out the border guards.
– from Nigel Cannings