Sheffield Hallam MP Nick Clegg has today written to Sheffield Council in response to their school places consultation. You can find a copy of the letter below:
The need for more primary school places in the south-west of Sheffield is a hugely important issue - it is incredibly disappointing for any child to be denied access to their catchment school. It is also clear from the Council's statistics that these pressures are going to continue for the foreseeable future, with a rise in the number of births in Sheffield. This is a consistent problem year on year and I find it concerning that the issue always appears to sneak up on authorities.
As the local Member of Parliament for this area, I have met with members of staff and governors at Dobcroft Infant & Junior Schools, Ecclesall Infant & Junior Schools and Clifford Infant School, to discuss these proposals. I have also met with local parents who are concerned about the plans and received correspondence from them. Their collective thoughts have helped me in responding to this consultation.
I note that some measures have already been put in place to cope with the extra demand for school places over the last few years, such as the expansion of Greystones Primary School and a temporary measure at Dore Primary that has resulted in a mixed age class. However, my observation is that the fundamental issue has not been addressed and this has resulted in another temporary measure of an extra class at Dobcroft Infant School for 2015/16 whilst a more permanent solution is sought.
On this point, a number of parents have contacted me to express their concerns that the additional 30 places at Dobcroft Infant School in 2015/16 are to be imposed and lack consultation. I appreciate that you state "this is a one-off change and does not commit the Council or school to going ahead with the permanent increase from 2016...", however I would seek some strong reassurances that this is the case should your current proposals be rejected.
What's more, I note that "there is no legal requirement" on the Council to consult about the extra class in 2015, but some forward planning could have, in my opinion, allowed for this. It is a huge concern to me that this decision appears to have been decided as a fait accompli with no consultation.
Parents clearly want a solution that enables children to attend a local school and not have to go through the stressful process of finding they cannot get a place at their catchment school and instead being allocated a school some distance away.
However, many parents at Dobcroft have expressed concern about the proposal to expand Dobcroft Infant and Junior Schools to 120 places per year. They feel that this will cause overcrowding issues - and this is an understandable fear given that residents are being asked to comment on the proposals without detailed plans for how this might work on the school site.
There are also concerns about the infrastructure locally, such as the roads and how they will be able to cope with the increased traffic problems that an expansion of a school is likely to bring.
For these reasons, I strongly feel that other possible solutions such as expanding Ecclesall Infants and Clifford need to be given equal consideration.
A long term, resilient, stable solution is needed for this area rather than the piecemeal short term fixes that have been enacted over recent years. The parents and children of south west Sheffield deserve better than constant patchwork solutions.