Making School Expansion Easier

The bit of School expansion that the Govt has made easier is the bit that involves saying ‘yes’ without thinking. In other words the bit that satisfies the demands of those who are shouting to be admitted to the popular schools. If additional children took up no extra space, needed no extra resources, and teleported in and out of their classrooms, school expansion would, I agree, be made easier by this relaxation of the rules.

However, the simple expansion of a school by the addition of an extra 30 pupils in its intake can create – over the coming years as the increased intake moves through the school – the requirement for at least 7 more classrooms (in a primary school) a bigger hall and larger dining facilities, more specialist and technical spaces (labs and sports facilities in a secondary school); more loos, more staff space, more bike racks, more car parking. So, a larger site is needed and bigger buildings. (If we hadn’t sold so many playing fields for housing development, we might be a little better off!)

School expansions are often multi-million pound building projects. Saying yes involves finding the money – taking it from a capital programme that might otherwise refurbish other school buildings elsewhere, in the interests of those pupils. The ones whose parents don’t shout so loudly.

A school which expands by 30 pupils in each age group soon has an increased traffic to and from the school of up to 210 extra journeys. In my experience local residents are not enthusiasts. An expanding school can create a traffic nightmare. Parents with a baffling sense of entitlement park their cars across the drives of neighbours close to a school creating ill will and sometimes chaos. In a recent school expansion I know of, the police and ambulance services objected to the expansion because of difficulties getting emergency vehicles to the site and to neighbouring homes. Longer journeys to popular schools don’t just clog the local roads around the school. They can create congestion or increase danger at important junctions nearby.

Expanding a popular school is not impossible, but it is never, ever, as simple as just saying ‘yes’ and it is often a deeply unpopular move (other than for the people who want a place there).

Only a politician who had never worked on school expansion in the real world could make Nick Gibb’s fatuous statement.

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