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Hackney’s flagship school building programme could be in jeopardy as pupil numbers drop unexpectedly

PUBLISHED: 14:54 05 April 2018 | UPDATED: 15:50 05 April 2018

An artist's impression of the new City of London Academy Shoreditch Park - perhaps the most visible aspect of the council's huge school rearrangement. Picture: Hackney Council

An artist's impression of the new City of London Academy Shoreditch Park - perhaps the most visible aspect of the council's huge school rearrangement. Picture: Hackney Council

Archant

Hackney’s controversial flagship school-building project could be put on ice – because there aren’t enough children.

A proposed secondary school may not now be needed. And although Nightingale Primary School is supposed to double its intake by Christmas, it is not even full as a single-form school now, leading parents to question whether money has been wasted.

Two years ago the council insisted the plans, which will see seven schools variously created, displaced and rebuilt in what is effectively a game of musical chairs, were vital to respond to demand for secondary places.

But some felt the proposal would produce compromised primary school buildings and have a detrimental effect on pupils’ access to outdoor space.

Education chiefs had insisted the complex plan – which is being funded by building flats on top of schools – was the only way to address the urgent need for an extra 1,260 primary school places and 1,650 secondary school places.

Now parents are questioning whether the new two-form entry primary school currently being built will ever be needed, just like a secondary school that has had land freed up.

Nightingale Primary School in Rendlesham Road, Lower Clapton, is moving to the site of the former Downsview School in Tiger Way by Christmas, when the building is expected to be completed.

An artist's impression of what the new Downsview School in Tiger Way will look like. Picture: Hackney CouncilAn artist's impression of what the new Downsview School in Tiger Way will look like. Picture: Hackney Council

The one-form school, currently undersubscribed, will double in size. Its old site in Rendlesham Road, where Benthal Primary pupils were supposed to move in 2020 once their new school had been built there, may now sit empty until at least 2022.

And it is not yet known if the new secondary school that was supposed to have been built where Benthal now stands will ever go ahead.

This week the council admitted plans to build that school by 2022 are on hold because of the drop in demand for school places.

A spokesman said: “We have paused the project so we can analyse data due later in the year regarding projected demand for school places.

“For over a decade, we have seen a steady increase in the number of school places needed in Hackney.

“This data is based on a number of factors, including birth rates, the number of people moving into the borough and the number of children on our primary schools’ roll.

An artist's impression of the school set to be built in Nile Street. Picture: Hackney CouncilAn artist's impression of the school set to be built in Nile Street. Picture: Hackney Council

“We use this data to inform our school places planning, and it has consistently suggested we needed another two secondary schools.

“However, in the last six months there has been a decline in demand across London.

“This could be down to a number of factors including house prices, the housing benefit cap and other welfare reform and even Brexit – but we have no way of knowing.”

To compound the council’s headache, house prices have fallen, too, raising red flags that the flats on the Nightingale site may not raise enough money for the development.

“With the drop in house prices, and the drop in the need for school places, do the numbers still add up?” a parent asked the Gazette.

None of the 89 flats in the Tiger Way development were classed as “affordable” or social housing, because the council said it needed all the revenue to build the new Benthal, Nightingale and secondary schools.

Up to seven schools could be rearranged and rebuilt in a giant game of musical chairs (sort of). Picture: Hackney CouncilUp to seven schools could be rearranged and rebuilt in a giant game of musical chairs (sort of). Picture: Hackney Council

Opponents of City of London Shoreditch Academy are also up in arms about the massive development next to Shoreditch Park and say it could have been avoided. The council has defended plans to build 480 flats to fund a new leisure centre and school on the site of Britannia Leisure Centre because of “demand for school places”.

Users of Haggerston Park were unhappy that land was taken away to build temporary huts for its pupils, who are being taught there until 2020 when the school – which still does not have planning permission – is supposed to be built. Plans for that project are expected to be given the go-ahead by the council’s planning committee this month.

To complicate matters even further, the Haggerston Park temporary school links back into the Benthal development, as pupils for the (potentially now redundant) secondary school were to have been taught there from September 2019 before transferring to the completed school in 2022.

The council is waiting to make a decision until the Greater London Authority releases its next set of demographic data in May. It will also use its own information on planned admissions for September.

A spokesman said: “At this point we will analyse it further to determine if this decline is a blip or a long term trend, and we will make a decision about the timing of delivering a second secondary school, or the need for it, at some time after then. This means that the plan to rebuild Benthal Primary is unlikely to begin until 2022.”

A 29-storey block in Nile Street, Hoxton, will cater for 150 pupils excluded from mainstream education in the New Regents College pupil referral unit. It will go underneath 171 homes and complete the tally of seven schools.

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