New school plan goes back to the chalkboard

A controversial scheme to create a new secondary school for village children has been rejected by the government.

The We Need a School group has been campaigning to open a community run ‘free school’ for 800 children in Knebworth, Woolmer Green, Codicote, Oaklands and Datchworth since 2009. But members were told last week by the Department of Education that their plan could not proceed to a planning and consultation stage because of a lack of suitable sites.

The scheme has been met with opposition from over 2,000 residents in the area, who signed a petition against it. Opponents argue it will destroy Green Belt and village way of life.

Spokesman for the pro-school group, Andrew Payne, said: “The site issue has always been a difficult one. We have had no desire to destroy beautiful views or countryside and have at all times listened to people’s concerns. We have explored every possible option in the catchment area in an attempt to secure a Brown Field site. None has become available.

He added that the business case was “otherwise compelling”: “Sufficient demand for the school was overwhelmingly proved, with 83 per cent of more than 350 parents contacted in an independent survey saying they would choose it for their children. This was on top of hundreds of registrations of interest in sending children to the school and a petition supporting the school which contained over 1000 names,” he said.

“We are convinced it has been the right thing to do to explore our ideas as far as possible, for the simple reason that the current secondary school options for village children are unacceptable to the vast majority of parents in our community.”

He said the group will now consider the government’s response before taking any further decisions.

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“We will need to consider seriously what viable options there are for locating the school and whether or not to shift our focus towards lobbying for better options and larger quotas for village children in the existing schools available to them. We note how substantially admissions have improved for village children since our campaign began, so we will keep pressuring the authorities so that our children continue to be treated fairly.”

Kevin Fitzgerald of opposition group Save Woolmer Green said the pro-school campaign had been conducted with a “lack of transparency” over Green Belt issues, while opposition to the scheme was “huge”.

“So far the We Need a School group has treated the opposition view with contempt. It is time that these people woke up to reality and stood by their statement that they would not proceed with the idea if it was opposed by a significant number of local residents,” he said.