Fears grow over school places

THE issue of school places has been hotly contested in the Bellway housing appeal.

Members of the South Morpeth Coalition, which is opposing the development, argue that existing schools will be unable to cope with an influx of children from the scheme as they are already at capacity.

But the developer argues there is still space available for the numbers of pupils that are likely to move into its homes.

And Northumberland County Council Head of Planning and Organisation John Clark agreed that there is no need for the developer to make additional provision.

The inquiry heard from Abbeyfields First School Governor Colin Pearson who said that the high standard of Morpeth schools means they are usually full as even if there are not filled by local children, families from outside the town will use the places.

He said that once a child is accepted they cannot be removed from the school to make way for someone within its catchment area so families moving into the Loansdean site would struggle to find a school place if they have missed the annual intake.

He added that it will also be difficult for children to then join the middle and high schools if they are not already in the Morpeth system as the local authority no longer has control over their admissions policy.

“I object to this proposal as it does not take adequate account of the needs of children’s education in the town,” he said.

However, a statement from Mr Clark said there is sufficient capacity in schools to accommodate additional pupils and in the unlikely event of a pinch-point, some parents may opt for church or special schools.

He added that children living at the Loansdean site would have priority for places at Morpeth schools and while it could mean those from outside the area missing out on a place, the rapidly falling birth rate in the town should ensure it is not a significant issue. He said children moving to the next stage of the education system would not be disadvantaged by not attending thefirst school.

“The overall pupil numbers living in the catchment area of Morpeth schools therefore do not justify the building of additional school capacity, especially when considering the future fall in numbers,” he said.