Pembury Primary School parents were invited to attend a consultation meeting on Thursday 28th November, regarding the ongoing expansion of the school from 420 pupils to 630 pupils. The expansion is necessary to cope with the well-publicised increased demand for school places within Tunbridge Wells.
Outline plans were discussed involving the addition of a double demountable classroom to temporarily house extra pupils. Mr Simon Webb, Area Education Officer for West Kent, explained the potential for selling the older Victorian parts of the school including relocating the School House Nursery, in order to subsidise the expansion. He was unable to reassure parents and staff about safety, welfare and disruption to pupils’ education where use of the communal areas is concerned. Mr Webb acknowledged that “another thirty pupils in this hall is going to be a logistical difficulty for the school” before permanent facilities are built.
Mr Gary Cooke, Chair of the Education Cabinet Committee for Kent County Council and second member of the consultation panel, stated that the increased demand was due to an increasing birth rate and inward migration to the town. He argued that the proposed expansion was in response to parental choice and both members agreed that Tunbridge Wells parents would want to travel to the school because it is a good school.
At the meeting, concern was raised regarding the safety of schoolchildren due to increasing traffic within the village. Parents were also unhappy that the school- currently graded by Ofsted as good- may be unable to maintain standards and that safety and security would be compromised during the building process. Inadequate parking around the school site was highlighted, as well as the ever-increasing traffic congestion on the Pembury Road and around the North Farm Trading Estate.
When asked about alternative schools for expansion, the panel reported that the majority of Tunbridge Wells primary schools are landlocked and admitted there is no Plan B. Mr Webb stated, “early indications are that Pembury demand [for school places] is increasing.” This has raised concern among some residents given that woodland close to the school site is due to be auctioned on 18th December 2012. This sale coincides with central government recently changing planning laws to allow developers more scope for building on greenbelt land.
Local residents have complained at the lack of publicity for the meeting, which was advertised through the school only. Mr Cooke apologised for the inadequate communication stating, “This has come up on a number of occasions” and that the criticism was “taken on board.” However, no further information regarding the consultation will be offered to residents, who can view the consultation online at www.kent.gov.uk/schoolconsultations . The consultation closes on Monday 21st January 2013.