Objection to proposed new school

PUBLISHED: 10:25 17 June 2006 | UPDATED: 11:02 22 October 2010

A battle is looming over plans for a 600-place Anglican and Methodist high school in west Norfolk after an official objection was lodged by neighbouring Cambridgeshire.

A battle is looming over plans for a 600-place Anglican and Methodist high school in west Norfolk after an official objection was lodged by neighbouring Cambridgeshire.

The voluntary-aided school at Downham Market is being proposed to ease growing pressure for places in west Norfolk and, if the proposals are approved, it could welcome its first pupils in three years' time.

But senior officers at Cambridgeshire County Council have registered an official objection over fears that it would attract children from over the county border and have a detrimental effect on their faith schools.

In a counter-attack last night, Canon Tim Elbourne, of Ely Diocese, which is backing the school along with the Methodist Church, said he believed the authority was “overstating its case”.

Gordon Jeyes, deputy chief executive of children' services at Cambridgeshire, has expressed a string of concerns ahead of a meeting about the school on Tuesday.

He points out that Downham's current high school, and nearby Methwold, have both been extended recently to meet the need for more places in the growing market town.

“There is therefore no need for an additional secondary school,” he says in a report to Norfolk's school organisation committee.

“To open a 600-place school for which there is no basic need would result in the loss of up to 600 pupils from neighbouring schools, including several within Cambridgeshire.”

He adds that if parents are willing to travel up to 35 miles to send their children to a faith high school - as shown in Cambridge - then at least 40 Cambridgeshire primary schools would fall within the same radius of Downham.

This would result in transport costs and impact on up to seven Cambridgeshire secondary schools, in particular the Queen's School at Wisbech, which could lose its pupil diversity if higher- income families could afford to send children to Downham.

Speaking to the EDP last night, Canon Elbourne warned that if the plan was scrapped, Norfolk would miss out on £14.5m secured from the government to cover the bulk of construction costs.

“Cambridgeshire has over-stated the case that it's going to affect schools in Cambridgeshire, which we think is a not very valid objection,” he said.

“We take the point that the cost of transport, but transport arrangements are subject to review in any case.

“Children in Wisbech, in particular, currently have just one secondary school

and I know some of them choose to go to Lincolnshire or to the private sector, not least because there isn't diversity on a large scale.

“There's just one school in March, so a number of parents there seek to get their children in Peterborough, but that is over-subscribed.

“Very simply, our concerns are for children and for families.

“If we don't open the school, the £14.5m will be redistributed to other parts of the country and the next school on the list, not a school in Norfolk.”

Supporters believe the faith school will help cope with extra pupil numbers arising from plans to build hundreds of new homes in the area.

A 17-acre patch of land at the nearby village of Wimbotsham had been ear-marked as a potential site.

It would admit 120 11-year-olds and possibly 120 students aged 14 from September 2009, with priority given to those who wanted a faith-based education.

Norfolk County Council has recommended that a decision on the proposal should be deferred until Spring 2007, when it will have the results of a wider review of educational provision in the area.

Richard Potts, secretariat of the Norfolk school organisation committee, said: “The committee will discuss the proposal at its meeting next week.

“If it is unanimously agreed, the diocese can then proceed, and detailed plans would be submitted in due course.

“If not, then it will be for the regional independent adjudicator to make the final decision, based on evidence submitted by all parties, including those for and against the proposal.”

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