Last month a planning application for a two form of entry primary school and nursery was lodged with Worthing Borough Council within the new development under construction.
It would be named the Bluebell Primary School and run by the New Horizons Academy Trust (NHAT) as a free school.
But objections have been lodged by a number of educational leaders across Worthing expressing concerns about the impact building a new primary will have on the existing schools across the borough, many of which are already under capacity.
This could have a huge financial impact as schools are funded per pupil place and Labour councillors have warned that for some schools this may result in redundancies and class closures.
Research shows there is currently a 1,363 surplus of primary age school places across Worthing.
But Sean McDonald, Conservative borough and county councillor for Northbrook, said: “Many of the residents of the new West Durrington Estate moved to their current homes as they believed a new school was going to be built. This has been delayed but is due to be opened in 2023. Having a local school close to their homes would be much safer, healthier for the children as they could walk to school and would reduce everyone’s carbon footprint. Driving children to schools throughout the town will not assist in reducing carbon emissions.
“At the moment some schools are undersubscribed but there are over 250 more properties currently being built on the estate and over 100 more properties on a site nearby on Fulbeck Ave. Many local residents welcome the new Bluebell Academy. I am aware of the fears of some people that some schools will not reach their quota but time will tell as more families move to this wonderful part of the town.”
School ‘not needed’
Labour councillors Carl Walker (borough) and Caroline Baxter (county) recently met with concerned headteachers.
Mr Walker described how the new primary is ‘not needed and will cause significant financial harm to many Worthing schools’.
He added: “What we really need in Worthing right now is specialist school support for children with additional needs but this proposed new build does not plan to meet the increasing need for school places for those students with additional needs who need a specialist school.”
Labour points out that even West Sussex County Council is predicting pupil numbers will continue to fall over the coming years with a reduction of 600 estimated in total between 2019 and 2025.
The closest schools to the proposed development have hundreds of free spaces between them, according to WSCC’s planning for school places 2021 document.
Ms Baxter, Labour group leader at County Hall, felt the site represented a clear opportunity to significantly increase SEND provision in Worthing in conjunction with existing special schools.
Pointing to the evidence in the planning for school places document, she added: “It is clear that a free school is not needed in Worthing and will only add financial pressure on our excellent existing schools.”
Meanwhile a WSCC spokesman said: “The Bluebell Primary School is a Department for Education-approved free school which the DfE is funding and building and has awarded to an academy trust to run.
“We are aware that a number of Worthing schools have expressed concerns over the surplus provision of places in the area and we have had conversations with a number of individual schools to discuss these issues.”
Trust ‘privileged’ to deliver new school
Meanwhile New Horizons says it has been working with the DfE and Regional Schools Commissioner since 2016 to bring this new free school to the West Durrington area.
The location was determined by the local authority in 2011 as part of the Worthing local plan and the school forms part of the masterplan for the wider development.
The trust said it is ‘privileged’ to have been selected to deliver two clear rationales for the school: to meet basic need from the new Saxons Plain development and to provide high quality provision in an area of proven disadvantage and lower educational outcomes.
NHAT’s board of trustees added: “When the families moved into this new development they believed that by buying their properties, places at a new primary school were guaranteed. They have already had to wait several more years than was initially planned.”
They go on to describe how the free school will provide ‘high-quality places’ especially as pupil outcomes in Worthing have been significantly lower than national averages at Key Stage 2 something that is ‘particularly true’ of outcomes for those deemed to be the most disadvantaged.
While not true of every school, they suggest the data demonstrates this is a well-established pattern across the borough as a whole.
Meanwhile following the age of transfer in 2015 in Worthing, 14 schools were downgraded by Ofsted meaning, according to the trust, the ‘need for high-quality educational places in the area is as true now as when the application was first submitted’.
The trustees added: “Representatives from the local authority have already met with New Horizons and other trusts to try to overcome, mitigate and explore the problem surrounding some local schools and their future financial viability.
“Representatives of the local authority also recognise that primary provision in Worthing needs reorganising regardless of the impact of the free school. Leaders from the local authority recognise and acknowledge that the age of transfer process completed in September 2015 could have been handled more strategically.
“The Regional Schools Commissioner wrote to the local schools in April of this year to reaffirm that the free school would be opening based on the need for high quality places in the West Durrington area.
“Whilst acknowledging there is an overall surplus of places across the planning area, they are not all in the right location to serve the new housing development.”
To view the school plans visit planning.adur-worthing.gov.uk using code AWDM/1853/21.