MP quizzes minister over school closure

SIR Bob Russell will meet a Government minister on Monday over the proposed closure of a Colchester secondary school.

Alderman Blaxill School is due to shut down in 2014 after declining pupil numbers had stopped it being “educationally or financially” viable.

But the projected growth of Colchester over the next decade means there could be up to 426 more Year 7 places needed by 2019, according to figures provided by Essex County Council.

Colchester MP Sir Bob brought the issue up in the House of Commons, netting him a meeting with schools minister David Laws next week.

Sir Bob, speaking in Parliament, said: “I am sure that forward-thinking and value for money are part of the Department for Education’s thinking.

“With that in mind, does the Secretary of State [Michael Gove] agree that it would be silly to remove permanently surplus places in secondary education, when it is known that youngsters coming through the system will need those places in three or four years’ time?”

Mr Laws replied: “I think my honourable friend has specific concerns about issues in his constituency in relation to some of the smaller secondary schools.

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“I would be happy to meet him to discuss whether there is some way that we can support his understandable desire to make sure that there is capacity for future children in those schools.”

Sir Bob said he was seeking to “square the circle” of funding complications, between revenue spending on retaining empty classrooms and the capital cost of building new classrooms a few years later, when the number of secondary school-age children is set to rise.

He added: “We have to find a common sense resolution which will enable the Alderman Blaxill site to be kept available for when the time comes – and everyone knows it will not be that many years – when we will need that accommodation.”

Essex County Council is currently consulting on provision of secondary school places in Colchester over the next decade.

Figures provided by the authority show, if expected housing developments go ahead on the Severalls and North Urban Growth Area Extension (north of Colchester Golf Club), demand for Year 7 places will increase from 1,346 in 2013 to 2,017 in 2021.

The county council’s consultation includes plans to provide 30 additional places at The Gilberd School in 2015 and then at least 120 on the Alderman Blaxill site in 2017.

It was reported earlier this month that governors at Stanway School are discussing plans to open a second campus at Alderman Blaxill from 2014.

But Stephen Castle, cabinet member for education at Essex County Council said there was no need for further provision on the Alderman Blaxill site before 2017. The consulation will run until November 16.

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