A meeting with Council officers, and everything we now know about primary place planning in Tower Hamlets

Last week four members of Friends of Bow Primary met with some of the Council officers responsible for schools development and planning: Christine McInnes (Divisional Director, Education & Partnerships), Terry Bryan (Pupil Place Planning) and Pat Watson (Head of Building Development).
In summary:

  • The good news: you are way more likely than you probably thought you were to get the primary school place you want in Bow East in 2018 (at least if, like me, you thought it was going to be almost impossible).
  • The less good news: Council officers wish to delay the opening of the Bow school until 2019, but this will go to Cabinet for decision, probably in July.
  • For you to attend: Council officers have agreed to hold an information meeting for parents of young children in our area to find out more about school admissions, the availability of school places etc – more soon on when and where.
  • Unresolved: there is still a big question about the provision of preschool places in the East of the borough.
  • We need you: Volunteers needed to take FoBP forward please!
Two actions arising from the meeting:

1. Watch this space and please come! We will set up one or more meetings, at which Council officers can inform and listen to local parents/carers in Bow East and nearby, around the issue of primary places. Hopefully this will be reassuring and inform the way the Council works with parents before their child starts school.

2. Can you help? We need to continue to push for the opening of the new Bow school, even if this is now in 2019, and to support its opening as the kind of community school we really want. To do this, we will need more volunteers – a lot of the original steering group have children starting school in 2018, which sadly might mean they miss out on applying to the Bow school. It will be important to have volunteers on board who might send their child to the Bow school in 2019, who would then be able to become parent governors or otherwise volunteer to support their child’s school once it opens. Could you take on a steering group role? Let us know if you’re interested.
Here is what we learnt at our meeting, combined with some of the data from the attached documents provided by the Council at our request: Primary school place planning 0217-1 and App D primary school place planning 0217-1. Do read them in full if you have time, because I am NOT an expert, and you might draw your own conclusions! If you want more information about the current application system for primary places, look at the Council’s website, here.

We asked 5 questions at the meeting, so I’ve structured the summary using those.

1. What is the situation with admissions this year in Bow East? Does it reflect last year’s trends? They have the 2017 admissions data now but it isn’t included in what they sent us.

Bow East *is* consistently one of the most stretched areas for school places in Tower Hamlets. As a whole borough we have the highest success rate of first choices school placements in London. However, last year (a ‘bad’ year) 77% of parents in Bow East still got their first choice of school. The year before that it was 86% in Bow East.

Terry Bryan couldn’t release the actual data for this year’s school placements as parents have yet to be given the offers. However, he said looking at the data overall there is given a slight fall in applications this year against what the Council predicted, and in Bow East the proportion of families getting their first choice of primary place will probably be more like 86% than 77%.

2. What is their thinking behind a 2019 rather than a 2018 opening date? 

This does not take away from the fact that the school IS needed here, and according to council data, it and the Bromley Hall school will both be needed to meet borough-wide demand which is expected to rise steeply from 2020 onwards.
Inline images 1
But this year’s slightly lower than predicted number of applications across the borough, is feeding into the council officers’ desire to postpone the opening until 2019 as they face the funding issues brought about by vacant school places elsewhere in the borough. As you can see from this map and table of the 2016 reception intake, vacant places were NOT in the East of the borough, where demand was high.
Inline images 2

Another issue local to the east of the borough is that a disproportionate number of schools in the Bow catchment area have all been oversubscribed in recent years (Old Palace, Old Ford, Wellington, Bonner Mile End and Chisenhale) – see page 7 of the ‘Primary school place planning’ document linked to above, for a very interested table showing this.

This means those schools end up with a very small catchment area, which might effectively exclude you from some of your nearest schools, especially if you are on the eastern edge of the borough where you are close to fewer schools.

 

Of course, what I personally would like is for the Bow school to open in 2018 so that my son and his peers in our area can all go to their nearest, community school. I remain committed to the importance of a really local school place to community and families. And I face the prospect of my child perhaps having a longer journey to school than I’d hoped. Terry Bryan agreed that parent choice is important and that parents in the East do have less of a chance at getting their choice than elsewhere.

But, if you wade through the attached data you can see it’s not all bad news. Not all Bow schools were oversubscribed in 2016 – and some other areas had a surplus of primary places last year (including Mile End, though the large number of vacant places there is probably a one-off due to the opening of the new St Paul’s Way Primary). Still, there ARE places in primary schools in the eastern half of the borough, and the likelihood of getting your first choice school this year or in 2018, even in Bow, is still quite high.

So, this is still a better prospect than I’d personally thought it would be, even if the school opens in 2019 not 2018.

3. Is September 2019 now a firm commitment for opening the school? Or is it still a case of defer in order to wait-and-see?

The Council officers said they are committed to a 2019 opening date and will put this recommendation to Cabinet, probably in July. We can attend that meeting and give our views.
If we decide not to object to the delayed 2019 opening date – and I would love to know what members think of this? –  we will still have work to do, to hold the Council to the 2019 date (what’s to say it might not slip back again?).

4. What can they tell us about the need for preschool places in the East of the borough, and how they plan to meet this need? In 2018 and beyond (for example, would they consider opening the Bow school preschool in 2018, or do they plan to open it in 2019 alongside reception etc)
They cited the new centralised application process for preschool places as a way they are making it easier for parents looking for preschool places. However, they do not plan to open the Bow preschool until 2019. This question still remains a really important one for our community and one that I think we need to continue to press the Council about. Thoughts and support please!

5. Would they please commit to a public meeting at which they present data that will reassure people that there are enough school places in Bow East for 2018, and explain the timeline for the opening of the new school for those who may want to be involved?
 

Short answer: yes! Terry Bryan was very keen on this idea.
One key point we made to Council officers is that local parents need more information about the likelihood of getting into a local school – including which schools are more likely to have spaces. They need to know what all their choices are – for example, what if a great school near to your workplace has more spaces than the one nearest your home? What if you like a school outside your catchment area – do you know your rights, and whether it’s even worth applying? Did you know that you are no longer penalised for putting a school as 2nd (or 6th) choice – you get the same treatment as 1st choice applicants?
Not only do parents need to know all this and more: they need this information earlier – not just when they are applying for a school place for a 4-year-old. Long before then, people are facing decisions about whether to leave the area – based on possibly unnecessary concern about a lack of school places.
Finally, there is actually an admissions forum for Tower Hamlets that monitors whether the admissions system is fair and effective each year. It meets in private, but minutes are available on the website here.
Here are the key docs from the Council again:

Primary school place planning 0217-1

App D primary school place planning 0217-1

And this is the admissions website for Tower Hamlets.

Do tell us what you think of all this. We are trying hard to represent the local community, so your insights and concerns are vital. Email: friendsofbowprimary@gmail.com

 

Can you help?

Are you free on Tuesday 7 February at 5.30pm by any chance? If you are, would you be able to come to the Tower Hamlets council cabinet meeting? We’ve learned that school admissions are on the agenda and we have the chance to ask a question to find out whether the council is now going to commit to opening a much-needed pre-school and school on the site of the old Bow boys school, just off Fairfield Road in September 2018 as promised.

As we discovered at a previous meeting, members of the public are welcome at cabinet meetings, although they tend to be a rarity. So this is an important opportunity to be there in person and get some answers.

With time now running short, we believe the council owe it to us to provide a definitive response as to how they are going to respond to the growing need for school places in our area. We know already that local schools are oversubscribed and we’ve been working hard to impress upon the council the impact that this is having on our community with many families worried about what future they have here.

So please, if you can come on Tuesday (the meeting is at Town Hall, Mulberry Place, London E14 2BG – a very short walk from East India DLR), please let us know by email and we can arrange to meet.

Other ways to help

  • If we don’t receive a clear response from the council, we will be looking to ramp up our campaign. Do you have any contacts in the local press or any campaigning experience that means you feel able to help us?
  • Would you be able to play a more active role by joining our steering group? Please email to let us know.

If you can help, please get in touch!

Thank you

 

The Mayor’s reply…

Following our meeting in October, the Mayor of Tower Hamlets, John Biggs, has come back to us with a reply to our questions.

You can see his response in full here:

2016-11-10-friends-of-bow-primary-docx-2

The Mayor remains encouragingly supportive of the new pre-school and primary school planned to open in September 2018 on the site of the old Bow Boys’ School. He also welcomes our involvement as a group and encourages us to meet possible providers (a process that we have now started).

At this stage, he can’t offer any guarantees that the school will open in September 2018, but he understands our concerns, as well as the need for more places. He is also exploring the possibility of opening the school using a temporary site if necessary (possibly using another part of the site on Paton Close on Fairfield Road).

So that’s the latest update. Please get in touch if you have any questions or comments at this stage, or if you would like to get further involved.

With thanks,

Rachel and Aline

 

Today’s meeting

Many thanks if you came to today’s meeting with the Mayor of Tower Hamlets, John Biggs. We were really pleased with the turn out. And if you weren’t able to attend in person, you were there in spirit if you found the time to reply to our recent survey.

Your answers, joined with others from people living across Bow, to paint a picture of the urgent need for more preschool and primary school places in our area. The full presentation is available here if you would like to read it: bow-school-presentation

We also shared with the Mayor every single comment we received in answer to the last question on our survey.

What might happen to you and your family if the school doesn’t open in September 2018?

Your replies appeared on this paper chain decorated by children who hope to attend the school from September 2018 onwards.

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Many people told us they faced moving away
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Other people feared no longer being able to work if a local school place was not available for their child
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It would be heartbreaking if our lovely community was broken up because of the lack of school places
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All of your replies were recorded and shared (anonymously) – it was a very long paper chain!

The strength of feeling locally was very clear at the meeting and is understood by the Mayor and his team. Unfortunately, as it stands, there remains no firm commitment to abide by the the original pledge to open the new preschool and primary school off Fairfield Road by September 2018.

We need to keep working together as a group of achieve this.

The Mayor shared some of the problems he faces, such as funding and the prospect of schools in other parts of the borough not being full. He also stated his commitment to solving these problems.

On a positive note, the Mayor was happy with our suggestion that we help find a local provider to run Bow Primary, such as another local school. We will therefore be working on finding potential local provider(s) who share our values for the kind of school it will be.

We then plan to get together with the council again to get the project moving forward – and to ensure that you and every member of our group knows as soon as possible whether or not the school will open on time.

Sadly, we know that many families face moving elsewhere otherwise and decisions about the future are being made right now.

So, please, keep spreading the word about the school and our group. New members are joining every day, and we need as many people as possible to actively support us.

URGENT: Are you free on Wednesday 26th October, 11.30am?

This is it! Your chance to meet the Mayor of Tower Hamlets, John Biggs, and discuss how important the new preschool and primary school on the site of the old Bow boys’ school, off Fairfield Road are to you, your family and your community.

Please – if you possibly can – could you come with us to the meeting (bringing your child/children if that’s what works for you)?

  • What? Meeting with the Mayor to discuss the new school as part of the community consultation.
  • Where? Bow Baptist Church, 1 Payne Road, E3 2SP
  • When? Wednesday 26th October, 11.30am

Please email and let us know if you’re coming. The more of us, the better.

We plan to share with the Mayor and Council Officers the results of our survey, as well as some of the personal stories that you’ve shared (we remove any names). And we believe that – with your help – we’ve put together a convincing case for the school to open as planned in September 2018.

So again – if you can – please come, even if you don’t want to say anything simply being there shows the strength in opinion locally. It could make an enormous difference.

Ready to read something really sad?

We’re about half-way through collecting survey responses from our members and I’ve just taken a look at some of the answers to the last question…

…What might happen to you and your family if the school doesn’t open in September 2018?

Overwhelmingly, the answer is ‘move away’. It’s so sad, because that means a lovely community being broken up, friends separated and families forced to leave a place they love, simply because the council isn’t providing enough local school places.

And, of course, many people aren’t able to move easily, so they’re left to worry about what will happen to their jobs, their homes and their children’s future.

 

But take a look for yourself. Here are a few replies:

  • We will move out of Bow.

 

  • Relocate.

 

  • We would need to move to another area or borough to make sure our child can attend a school that a) is near b) still has available spaces c) is of good standard We would be very sad to have to leave our neighbourhood and community where we’ve built up good friendships and have made very good use of the local economy.

 

  • I am a single mother, working full time, with no family support. All the Tower Hamlets primary schools are heavily oversubscribed. If I couldn’t get a place in a local primary school for my son, it would be very hard to cope given that I work full time and cant rely on any support. I wouldn’t be able to stay in Tower Hamlets even though I have been happily living here for over 10 years. I put a lot of hope on the Bow Primary School opening in September 2018 to secure a place for my child.

 

  • We will have to find an alternative school however if too far or we don’t like the alternative school provided, then we will have to move out.

 

  • We’ll have to leave the area if the school won’t be open in time for our child as the nearest primary isn’t suitable and the second closest is seriously oversubscribed.

 

  • We will relocate to a different area which will be incredibly sad for us as the community in our area is so strong and supportive and I was hoping that the new school would deepen the community ties.

 

  • I am physically disabled. The school would be perfectly situated to make school runs very easy. Otherwise I would have great difficulty with getting my child to school.

 

  • I will try and get a place in another school but I know chances are slim and demand is higher than places available. if he doesn’t get a place I will be Forced to move if we can. If not, I will be forced to leave my job to take my son to a school further away.

 

  • We may well have to leave the area, and try to start life again elsewhere, as we understand it is unlikely that our son would get into any other local school because they are so oversubscribed. This would be devastating for us as a family because we are part of such a good community here in Bow. We love Tower Hamlets and ironically one of the things we really appreciate about it is how good its community schools are (I’ve taught in secondary schools in the borough for almost a decade). What a shame if the school doesn’t open in 2018 and we’re effectively shut out of one of the things that makes this borough so great.

 

Rest assured, everything you’ve shared motivates us to fight even harder for the school.

We’ll be in touch soon to share how you can get involved in the council’s community consultation (due to start in October). So if you haven’t yet signed up to join our group and receive updates, please do it now.