By Local Democracy Reporter Ciaran Duggan
The Department for Education has defended its decision to press ahead with plans to build a new secondary school in Thanet despite strong opposition from Kent councillors.
Kent County Council has been overruled by Boris Johnson’s Government as Maidstone County Hall bosses tried to ditch plans, from 2017, to build a new education institution at Margate’s former Royal School for Deaf Children.
The Department for Education says the school will offer ‘more choice for parents’ and will be necessary to cope with local population growth, predicted to increase from 1.5million people to 1.8million in Kent by 2038.
A Government spokesman said: “A new school in Margate will provide more choice for parents and will address a significant shortfall of school places forecasted in the area.”
Nearly 700 pupils will be expected to study at the school, still earmarked for the 14.7 acre Victoria Road site, near Margate town centre, It will be built over the next three years. It was originally planned for development by September 2022.
KCC’s former leader Paul Carter (Con), whose final act as the head of the county council was to cancel the proposal on October 17 last year, said the DfE’s verdict was of ‘great disappointment’.
Cllr Carter said: “The new school is unnecessary, will not be in the best interest of continuing to improve secondary education in Thanet and is a massive waste of tax payers money.”
Margate councillor Barry Lewis (Lab), who represents the area at county level, also slammed the Government over the decision over the new school, which he said was an ‘expensive disaster’.
He said: “It’s totally unacceptable for an unelected bureaucrat in Whitehall to overrule the cross-party objections from Kent’s democratic members.”
His comments come after Cllr Carter previously said KCC could save up to £10.3million by expanding other Thanet schools, including Westgate’s Ursuline College and King Ethelbert’s School in Birchington.
In addition, County Hall leaders said they hoped to permit a temporary expansion to Royal Harbour Academy in Ramsgate until 2024.
However, the Department of Education has told the Local Democracy Reporting service that Government ministers considered the proposal to cancel the project and declined to agree with KCC last month.
Since the decision was made, several Thanet headteachers have written to KCC proposing a meeting to discuss the implications and next steps.
KCC’s portfolio holder for education, Cllr Richard Long (Con), told his nine cabinet colleagues he was “disappointed” by the outcome during a public meeting at Maidstone County Hall, in Sessions House, two days ago.
Cllr Long added: “The decision of the minister is absolutely clear and really we have no choice.”
The 14.7-acre site on Victoria Road and Park Crescent Road features around 120,000 sq ft of school buildings, including former student housing.
Margate’s Royal Deaf School shut in in December 2015 after The John Townsend Trust, which ran it, went into administration.
The distressing closure of the school and Westgate College resulted in some 500 job losses and scores of children left without a specialist school placement.