The Sheffield Green Party acknowledges the potential need for additional school places in the Ecclesall area and understands the Council initiative to try to find a solution to this problem. At the same time it would like to express reservations regarding the current proposal to expand the Ecclesall Infant School to become a through three-form Primary School, which will mean a 350% increase in the number of children on the site (from the current 180 to 630). Our concerns are as follows:
1. Previous consultations, when a number of options were available, were insufficiently publicised, which means that many people in the community remained entirely unaware of the plans. There is now a wider and better advertised consultation, but, disappointingly, only one proposal is on the table. When parents and residents attempted to ask about alternatives at recent consultation events they were reminded by Council officers that the Council were there to discuss the option of the expansion of Ecclesall Infant school and they were not there to explore alternatives. This prevented the exploration of all but one option.
2. There are considerable concerns in the local community regarding the impact that this plan will have on traffic, parking, access to the site, air quality and road safety (for children in particular). No assessment has been provided by the Council about any of these serious issues. These are already issues of concern in the current situation and the problem will of course escalate massively with a the very substantial increase in the number of children arriving at and leaving the school every day. There is no logical reason to suppose that assessments will reveal anything positive about the likely impact of a three-fold increase of children, traffic and air pollution.
3. The site of the Ecclesall Infant School represents a very important green area for the local community, as well as a wildlife refuge, and the large scale extension of the school means that it will be very substantially eroded. We believe that green areas should be preserved rather than built up. The current area of concrete and buildings (including the car park) occupies about a third of the site; it can easily be envisaged that, with a 350% increase in student numbers, the green area will be reduced to a minimum (even if a two-storey building is built).
4. The proposal means that the current site of the Ecclesall Junior School will be used solely as a feeder for Clifford infant School. This raises the issue of how sustainable it is going to be in the long term as the buildings are in dire need of maintenance and it is questionable that a much smaller school will have enough funds to look after the site properly (even considering that the current mobiles will be removed). Many Clifford parents are very concerned about this, as they fear that their children will end up being rather isolated in a school that is too large for a one form entry.
5. In 2015 the Council estimated the cost of a new primary school building on the Infant School site at £9m. This has now been reduced to £4.9m, presumably with the justification that the current new plan is to keep the existing Infant School premises and add an additional building, rather than replace the whole structure with a brand new building. Yet, it is difficult to justify how a building that is supposed to host 450 students (i.e. 630 minus the current 180) can cost almost half a building designed to host 630 students. There seems to be a distinct risk that the cost will spiral up in the course of the project and/or that the quality of the new building will be compromised to stay with the original budget.
6. The Council itself has in the past previously regarded the proposal that it is now pursuing as too expensive and not providing significant benefits. There was support for another proposal that is considered as more desirable by many. This concerned a smaller scale expansion of the current Infant School to three classes per year (bringing the total number of children to 270) and a local expansion of the Clifford School locally to a through primary. In this way all the Ecclesall Infant School children could feed the current Ecclesall Junior. No option is perfect but this solution would provide some relief to traffic on Ringinglow Road as Clifford has mainly a Nether Edge catchment and therefore parents would not have to drive their children outside their local area. Also Clifford would have a better opportunity to cement its connection with its local community. At the same time this would reduce the scale of disruption of the Ecclesall Infant site, which would largely remain an area to be enjoyed by children and adults alike. Money that would be saved from the construction of a large building on the Infant site should suffice to expand Clifford, provide a modest expansion of the Ecclesall Infant school and some much needed maintenance work for the Ecclesall Junior site.
7. The Council is now justifying their decision to opt against this solution on the basis that the creation of a through Ecclesall primary would guarantee better continuity of education to the Ecclesall children. This is debatable (after all, for more than sixty years children have followed that pattern with no adverse effects) but, most importantly, the Council position is inconsistent because it offers an opportunity to the Ecclesall children which it denies to the Clifford children. Another point that the Council has raised at consultation meetings (but it is not in the consultation document) is that it cannot afford to expand both Clifford and Ecclesall Infant schools. However, the Clifford expansion has been costed at £2.7m. Surely, if an expansion of 15 classrooms is quoted at £4.9m, the expansion of just three classrooms at the Ecclesall Infant School can be budgeted within £2.2m.
The Sheffield Green Party also queries the need for additional school places in the Ecclesall area considering the following information supplied by the Department of Education:
Ecclesall infants offered 90 places but only 87 were filled. Only 59 of those were filled by children within catchment. This means that the temporary expansion (increasing pupil numbers from 60 to 90) was not needed to cater for children in the Ecclesall catchment.
Greystones recently expanded and offered 90 places but only 86 were filled.
Clifford offered 30 places and 28 were filled.
Hunters Bar offered 90 places and well over half of them (54) were pupils from outside the catchment.
Dobcroft reduced the number of pupils admitted following the bulge class of 2015 from 120 back to 90. At Dobcroft all catchment children were admitted (and 4 non catchment).
The only school in SW Sheffield which did not admit all its catchment children was Dore (10 catchment children missed out).
The figures show that across all the catchments in the South west there was plenty of capacity in school for all catchment pupils to get a place in a SW school.
Some areas of the country no longer use catchments. An alternative is to offer every child a good school place within a given reasonable distance to their home. Increasing flexibility of catchment areas would also deliver a solution to needing to increase places, for example, if the Hunters Bar catchment area extended up Ecclesall Road.
The cost of building primary school places in Sheffield on average for a new school place as a permanently expanded school is approx £9,448. The council propose to build 450 new school places on the Ecclesall Infants site. Ninety of the places increase the capacity of the infant phase, 120 of the places increase the capacity of junior places. However, the remaining 240 places are simply a transfer of places from the current junior site (which will still have space to accommodate them) to the infant site. The cost of building those new 240 places which do not increase capacity at all is about £2.4m. Is this the best use of resources?
We believe that if the Council wishes to press ahead with expanding school places they should revert to the original favoured plan and provide small scale expansions of the Clifford and Ecclesall Infant Schools and abandon the idea of creating a large new building on the Ecclesall Infant site. This latter project is highly controversial and runs the risk of substantially upsetting quality of life and social cohesion in the Ecclesall area. With such substantial net loss of space for the cumulative community of Ecclesall Infant and Junior School children it is questionable that the proposal of a through primary will guarantee an improved experience for the school children. When all factors are considered it appears the costs will far outweigh the benefits.
Cllr Alison Teal
Nether Edge and Sharrow Ward
21 June 2016
Details of the Ecclesall school places consultation and the Council’s proposals can be found at: https://www.sheffield.gov.uk/education/about-us/consultation/school-places.html