A booming population in Elmbridge meant that a lack of school places had become a major concern for the council. I interviewed Surrey’s education boss in March 2010 to find out what was being done. Here is the result, published in the Surrey Advertiser on March 19, 2010.
MORE children could be put into temporary classrooms as pupil numbers in Elmbridge continue to spiral upwards.
Councillor Peter Martin, portfolio holder for schools at Surrey County Council (SCC), admitted the borough was the worst-affected area in the county.
An increased birth rate, more houses being built and an apparent shift away from the private education sector had contributed to the problem, he said.
The county is looking at birth rates and trends in education to try to predict where investment in new schools is most needed.
Cllr Martin said temporary classrooms – sometimes called ‘demountable classrooms’ – would be a short-term solution.
He added: “I wouldn’t say they were portable things. They’re very substantial, very effective classrooms.
“They’re not draughty horrible things, they’re really desirable classrooms.”
Esher Church of England High School is oversubscribed, with parents from East and West Molesey, Claygate and Cobham fighting for places.
Thirty additional places were recently added at the school, but pupil numbers are expected to rise in the coming years.
Some of the worst-affected junior schools are Ashley Church of England School in Walton, Cranmere Primary School in Esher, Thames Ditton Infant School and Manby Lodge Infant School in Weybridge.
In a report before SCC’s cabinet earlier this month, officers recommended that two forms of entry for secondary schools – about 60 places in Year 7 – were created “as soon as possible”.
Michael Courtney, a governor at St Paul’s Catholic Primary School in Thames Ditton and an Elmbridge councillor for Claygate, said SCC should have known the problem was coming.
“In the last seven years Claygate Primary School and St Paul’s have become two-form entries, which means they have doubled in size. So the number of secondary school children needing places has doubled.
“Apart from scrambling around with temporary classrooms at Esher High School, they have done nothing to plan for this.
“The Office for National Statistics is not predicting that this is a temporary situation, at least not in the next 10 years.”
The Liberal Democrat councillor added that the Elmbridge Development Plan had also predicted an increase in population of 5,600 people over the next 16 years because of new housing.
At the same time, he noted, the county was considering ending bus services to schools.
“Here we are the richest county in the country and the richest borough in the county, and we can’t produce proper joined up thinking on schools and education and lifestyles for our children.”
Cllr Martin said the problem was the result of the popularity of Surrey’s schools, which has led to children from London boroughs travelling across the border to attend them.
Surrey accepts more pupils than it loses to neighbouring counties, leaving it with fewer resources.
“This year, and over the past two to three years, we have had almost no help from the government,” Cllr Martin said.
“We attract 5% more pupils than we should do. People come across the border to use our schools, but we don’t get any more money for it.
“I’m not very keen on building schools that people from outside the county will use but I can’t stop that.”