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Fears expansion will be ‘final nail in the coffin’ for primary school

Fears expansion will ‘final nail in the coffin’ for primary school
Fears expansion will ‘final nail in the coffin’ for primary school

A village primary school is set for expansion despite fears it will be the “final nail in the coffin” for another school nearby, which would suffer a “slow and painful death”.

Today (Tuesday, November 13), Cambridgeshire County Council’s children and young people’s committee approved the permanent expansion of The Bellbird Primary School in Sawston from 315 to 420 places in response to “demographic changes” in the local area.

The cost of expanding The Bellbird from 315 to 420 places was approved for inclusion in the council’s capital programme in December 2017 and was £2.46m.

However, Anneka Stockdale, headteacher at The Icknield Primary School, said the extra funding and capacity for The Bellbird risked diverting funds and pupils from The Icknield which, she said, was already struggling to maintain its aging buildings.

“I have very serious concerns it would lead to a slow and painful death for us,” she said. “We are unable to maintain our very old buildings and recruit and train staff and have a tight budget. We are in a very vicious cycle and are already on a trajectory to a slow and painful death.”

Mrs Stockdale said it seemed as though The Bellbird was being given “preference” in the village despite both schools achieving the same Ofsted results. She said expanding the school would be “the final nail in the coffin” for The Icknield.

The committee heard The Bellbird’s catchment area is “significantly bigger” than The Icknield’s. Councillors were told the move was a bid to help the area respond to increasing demand and to allow it to respond to rising numbers of pupils as new housing developments are built in the area.

Cllr Anna Bradnam noted that demand was likely to increase as more people moved to the area, and said the council should not allow The Icknield to “wither and die” as it was likely it would be crucial to providing the capacity needed in the coming years.

Simon Bywater, chairman of the children and young people committee, said he thought it was important to “provide the best education for all the children of Cambridgeshire”, and that it would not be beneficial to expand one school at the expense of another.

The committee resolved to approve the expansion of The Bellbird Primary School, but also voted to seek approval from the Office of the Schools Adjudicator to delay the implementation of the increase in the school’s Published Admission Number (PAN) from 45 to 60 until September 2020.

The PAN determines how many pupils can be admitted in each year group. It is hoped the delay will avoid pupils being diverted from The Icknield School to The Bellbird, and allow both schools to function alongside each other.

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