Plans for new secondary at former Royal School for Deaf Children site thrown in doubt

Melissa Carr Photography

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Proposals by Kent County Council to create a secondary free school in Margate could be ditched.

The authority announced approval of a decision to buy the 14.7 acre former Royal School for Deaf Children site in September 2017 with the aim of creating a six form academy with a roll of 690 pupils by 2022/23.

But The Isle of Thanet News can reveal that a contingent from Kent County Council had a meeting with the Department for Education on June 17 to discuss options for dropping the plan.

The authority would need the permission of the Secretary of State to rescind the decision. That permission has not yet been confirmed.

Melissa Carr Photography

The proposal had originally been to open this year at the former Walmer School site with 150 pupils and then transfer to the new build in 2020 with pupil numbers predicted to double and the school roll having students from Year 7-Year 9. By 2022/23 the school was to have had 690 pupils enrolled.

This timing was then moved back, according to KCC’s 2019-2023 education commissioning plan, which proposed the school opening in temporary accommodation in 2020 with 120 Year 7 places, and in 2021 on the new site. 

The move was to tackle a predicted shortfall of 309 Year 7 places in Thanet by 2022/23 if no action is taken. Across years 7-11 this could mean a shortage of 1256 places by 2022/23.

Two initial applications for sponsors of the school did not receive consent from the Department for Education as part of its free schools programme.

Sponsor and cost

According to  the 2019-2023 commissioning plan The Howard Academy Trust has now been confirmed as the successful sponsor via the DfE Free School presumptive process. 

However, problems with gaining developer funding means KCC is looking at a £20million spend to complete the new build project. This would be on top of £3 million already pledged for the two form expansion at the Ursuline School in Westgate.

The cost of providing additional school places is met from Government Basic Need Grant, prudential borrowing by KCC and developer contribution monies. But KCC has not been  in a position to undertake any additional prudential borrowing to support new provision as it would become in breach of one of its key fiscal indicators that net debt should not exceed 15% of its net revenue expenditure.

This means delivery of the additional school places relies more than ever on  funding from Government and securing contributions from developers. 

Alternatives

It is understood that KCC is now considering alternatives such as extending existing academies. There is also the option of developing an all-through secondary on the Newington primary site.

Detailed plans for Newington Secondary School were submitted to the Department for Education in 2016.

The secondary would be an extension to the existing primary and offer a balanced education programme for up to 600 students in year groups of 120 from Years 7 to 11.

This proposal is still awaiting a decision.

Roger Gough, Kent County Council’s Cabinet Member for Children, Young People and Education, said: “Kent County Council is continuing to work to bring forward the required secondary provision in Thanet both now and in the future.”

With thanks to Melissa Carr Photography

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