We are running out of space in local schools. So much for the aspiration for more children to walk to school; some parents are having to drive their children half way round Maidstone to reach their allocated primary school. And Kent County Council predict that as many as 74 secondary school children could be left with no school place in 2020 unless urgent action is taken. With more housing on the way, the problem is only going to get worse.
This isn’t coming as a surprise, nor has the problem been ignored. In 2015, the Government approved funding for a new secondary school at Valley Park. And in 2017, we got the go ahead for a new primary school and a special school. The Education Funding Agency identified a site for both near Bearsted.
But now we’re looking at a serious risk of none of these new schools being ready for 2019, and possibly not even 2020.
The secondary school has been caught up in planning wrangles, most recently a tree preservation order which could delay building by several months. Of course ancient trees are precious, but at this rate the new school will have to open in porter cabins.
And after many months of discussions about the site for the primary school, it comes to light that the mental health unit being built by Junction 7 has permission to function as a secure facility.
I care deeply about mental health and breaking down the stigma that surrounds it. I’m glad that patients with mental illness will be cared for locally. But we can’t have a primary school and a secure unit with some very troubled patients next door to each other.
Maidstone Borough Council granted planning permission for the mental health unit and must have known that it wouldn’t be compatible with the primary school; I’m baffled that they didn’t raise this sooner. Now it looks like we need to start from scratch finding a new site.
There’s little I care more about than giving children a good start in life. A good school, inspiring teachers, close friendships – these things can set you up, or not, for life. Whoever’s fault it is, and whether these failings are intentional or down to incompetence, it makes no difference. The fact is, Maidstone’s children need more schools and we need them soon.