Hertfordshire Schools Petition

Careful now

When we left Edinburgh, one of the reasons we chose to move to Harpenden rather than into London itself is that the schools in this area have a brilliant reputation. But it wasn’t until we arrived – and I joined a local parents email list – that I realised there are also some serious problems with the education system here. There is a massive under-supply of school places in the town, and for the past three years there have been large numbers of children who have not been allocated a place at any of their chosen schools.

It has taken me a while to get my head around this – in Scotland you either go to your nearest school or you go to private school and the application process is much simpler. But after a few months reading emails on the local list, chatting to other parents at nursery drop-off and seeing the stress that families go through as they wait to find out if their children have a place in Harpenden at all, I am starting to understand the situation.

This year in Harpenden, things are so bad that local parents have organised a petition to Herts County Council, detailing the problems and calling for a permanent solution. You can view the petition online here, and if you live or work in Hertfordshire, I’d be delighted if you could sign it.

I’m also very happy to have local parent Sarah Beale as a guest blogger today, giving a personal account of her experience.

***

I lived in Wheathampstead for 21 years I grew up in a close community and attended St Helens school. I then went on to St Georges School in Harpenden. I went to St Georges as the senior school in Wheathampstead was closed and all the children in the village were sent to schools in their surrounding areas. I was fortunate to have been able to attend this school. However, I always felt apart from my peers at school as they were able to walk home and socialise with their friends after school. I was never able to do that as I lived at least three miles away from my school and was always a lift or a bus journey away. 

We bought our house in 2004 before we had children as we wanted to be within walking distance of all the fantastic amenities that Harpenden has to offer. We bought our house as a family home and felt that it was well placed for our children. The suggestion that our children may potentially be sent nearly three miles away from their home just to go to school never have crossed our minds. I am heartbroken that we are now faced with exactly this problem, that my son my feel the same as I did when I attended school.

It is our greatest wish for our children to be involved and attend school within their local community. I believe that David Cameron’s Big Society is seriously at risk in Harpenden. Hertfordshire County Council is breaking down local communities with their inadequate school planning. We are fully aware that school budgets are tight, and that parental involvement with their child’s school is vital. People are more likely to want to volunteer if they feel it would benefit their local community. Taking children out of their locality for schooling will impact the willingness of parents to volunteer.

Our children will be faced with the same issue I faced as a child. If children are spread across a town, as opposed to in a small, localised area, they are less likely to meet up and socialise out of school hours with the knock on effect that parents do not get to know each other and the local community spirit dies. 

I currently walk my son to nursery school, and he and I really enjoy the walk and the things that we see on the way to school. I am saddened by the thought of having to sit in lines of traffic, instead of walking. We are now faced with endless car journeys. The social aspect of meeting up with friends and neighbours on your walk to school will not happen for those of us faced with driving to Wood End.

The health and safety of those without access to transport should also not be ignored. Currently the parents living in the Crabtree area would be able to easily walk their children to a local school, without having to cross any major highways. The suggested additional places at Manland would mean all the parents living in the Crabtree area having to cross Station Road during rush hour, and would make it almost impossible for them to access Wood End, without both the parents and the local council incurring additional costs.

The addition of a local class in the Crabtree area would ensure that the local children are involved in their local community; that the parents would be able to be a part of their children’s education; that we could see our children at school; we would be able to walk to school and enjoy being part of the Big community.

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Please do consider signing the petition here if you live or work in Hertfordshire.

If you’re a local business who would be willing to have a paper copy of the petition on your premises, or if you’d like to get more involved with the campaign you can email info@harpendenparentsgroup.co.uk

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6 responses

  1. We’ve had a similar problem in Bristol, a few years ago 300 children in my part of Bristol alone didn’t even get allocated a school place! Fortunatly the council have stepped up, they have built 2 new schools within walking distance of my house (not sure how many Bristol-wide) and increased the number of classes in a few more. It meant that the catchment area for my closest school went from 400m to 1.6km in a year. I just hope the council have realised that all these new primary children will be going to secondary school in a few years time or we’ll have the same problem again.

  2. It is just as bad in St Albans. We lived 400 metres away from our nearest school but couldn’t get a place, and had to settle for a school 1.5 miles away. And we only got that because we knew from other parents in our road that we had to put it on our list if we didn’t want to be allocated the worst performing school in the area. New housing is being built all the time, which is the right thing to do for house prices and for families, but not when there are inadequate schooling and doctors spaces to cater for them all. It makes me so angry!

  3. I may not be popular with what I’m about to write, but still…

    I agree that there needs to be right number of school places overall for the number of children that there are. When new housing estates are built they should have facilities like schools and doctors as part of the planning. Where children don’t get allocated a place anywhere then action must be taken, just not getting allocated a place where you want may be an inconvenience, but your child is not being denied an education.

    Where I do have a bit of a problem is that fact that so many people either with young children or who are planning a family seem to move to a specific area because they want their children to go to the local school. If the whole area suddenly becomes full of families with children all of the same age then it is unlikely that they will all be able to go to the closest school, quiet simply because when the school was built the demographic in the local area was different and there aren’t enough spaces. There are also some other areas where new families choose not to move to because they do not like the local school. That school then ends up with spaces because the local demographic is again different from when the school was built. Truth is though that in St Albans and Harpenden all of the schools are actually very good, especially compared to other cities in the UK. We’re actually very lucky.

    Another issue I have is people who move to an area, live there without every connecting with their local community, yet when it suddenly comes to school admissions time they think that “their community” owes them a school place. Community building doesn’t just start when your kids start school, it should start as soon as you move to an area and it is not limited to getting involved in a school. I’m not saying that this is the case here, but I have definitely seen it happen locally.

    I’m afraid I’m also not clear on why walking from the Crabtree area to Manland is so problematic. Station Road isn’t exactly a six lane highway and it does have pedestrian crossings on it.

    Sorry if I’ve upset anyone with my comments, but I’m saying how I see things.

  4. This is not a Hertfordshire problem, its a Nationwide one! We have moved the other way – from Hitchin in Hertforshire to Falkirk – and our 2 children could’t get into any of the 4 closest schools! Larbert has big problems, too. They built an extension to their primary school in 2000, its now proving to small for the demand and they will have to use hired containers as classrooms.

  5. Just one point most people seem o have missed. Local authorities are no longer the people who can set up new schools. Now you need to do it yourself! The Dept for Education wants all new schools to be set up under the free School system. There are new Free School junior schools being set up in both Harpenden and St Albans. I am a member of a group of parents and teachers applying to set up a new secondary school for Radlett, Shenley and London
    Colney. See http://www.harperburyfreeschool.org.uk

  6. This is the future for my town – unless a proposed development of 600 houses and a supermarket is turned down.
    Our primary schools are already full. My son’s school had to create an extra class to cope with the new families who moved into the area last Summer. And the high school is over-subscribed.
    Yet this new development doesn’t provide another school. Can you imagine how many children would come from a development of 600 houses?
    We’re a historic town with a tight-knit community. Yet the people in favour of this development keep talking money, money, money. Not the long-term problems such a huge expansion of the town would cause.
    Profit comes before everything. Then families have to live with the consequences.
    (Here endeth my sermon)
    Donna x

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