OPINION: Carlton Academy expansion isn’t enough to solve borough’s secondary school places problem

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The borough will still be short of secondary school places in 2023, says local parent Ben Hemstock…

A quick introduction from myself first of all, my name is Ben Hemstock. I’m married, 30 years of age and most importantly for this article, a parent of 2 girls. My youngest daughter is 4 ½ and my eldest is coming up to 7.

You may have heard me talking on BBC Radio Nottingham recently about a public meeting my wife and I organised about the lack of secondary school places in the Gedling area. This piece will not be a short one so I hope you’re sitting comfortably.

The meeting was held on May 10 at Gedling Memorial Hall with close to 50 people attending.

The debate on the evening was passionate and productive, although this was no thanks to Nottinghamshire County Council as they refused to attend. Personally, I think the Councillors and Officers responsible for the situation were aware of the verbal kicking they were likely to take and didn’t want to face us in person. I did however receive a very curt letter informing me that my view about the lack of school places was “Simply Wrong”. So, my question to them is…Am I wrong or are your figures wrong? Because it’s quite simply impossible to be both!

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Since then another statement this week has been released by Gedling Councillor Chris Barnfather, leader of the Conservatives in Gedling.

His statement talks about the fact that the 300 places at Carlton Academy should now “dispel the myth about the lack of School places in Gedling”. Well Councillor, speaking directly to you, I would invite you to view the response to my freedom of information request to NCC and then tell us that the issue is still “a myth”!

No doubt many reading this will already be aware of the issue. For those of you not aware of the problem, allow me to explain. Back in April I received a response to a freedom of information request about the predicted number of available secondary school places required vs the number of school places that would be available over the next 10 years. The data very clearly states that by 2023 we will be 662 secondary places short.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m well aware that we have an extra 300 places being created at Carlton Academy but even with my terrible brain for maths, I know that being minus 662 places and adding 300 does not equals 0!

Oh, and by the way the figures state that by 2027/28 we’ll be minus 743!

PICTURED: Carlton Academy

Let’s look at the Carlton Academy development: the County Council have pledged almost £3m to develop the site and add places for 300 pupils. I’m not sure what sort of buildings are planned and I’m no expert but I can’t imagine they’ll get much for £3m these days.

Right now, the school is a relatively small school which allows the teachers to actually get to know the kids, have decent size classes and restrict how much disruption is caused to local residents before and after School. I’m hearing time and time again from parents of kids already there that they chose it because of its size as it gives a more personal feel unlike some of the larger schools in the area which have over 1000 pupils. So, adding 300 is clearly going to do something to that. Not to mention the extra traffic and the resulting extra air pollution when we’re trying to get kids to walk to school.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m well aware that we have an extra 300 places being created at Carlton Academy but even with my terrible brain for maths, I know that being minus 662 places and adding 300 does not equals 0!

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Some of the developments the extra secondary school places are designed to cater for are not exactly local. There have been stories coming out of kids in Gedling offered places in Bramcote. How is this reducing pollution or making it less daunting for a 11-year-old to get to a new school?

In the case of going to Bramcote, how many of those children’s friends will actually be joining them? None I imagine. So not only will they be going to a new school the other side of the city centre and beyond but they also will have no friends to go with on the journey of an hour or more to get back and forth

One other huge issue that came from this discussion is that currently, as you read this, there is a team of demolition workers knocking down the old Gedling School site on Wollaton Avenue in Gedling.

The closure of this site meant a loss of 900 places. The building themselves have been left to become almost derelict but had they been maintained instead of being left for so long, it’s possible they could have been used for educational purposes once again. NCC has completely ruled out using the site for educational use.

secondary school places
PICTURED: Vernon Coaker addresses parents concerned about the lack of secondary school places in the borough (PICTURE: Gedling Eye)

Now consider the location of the new Chase Farm Development in relation to the site. In a straight line it’s about half a mile if not less. Chase Farm and also the Willow farm areas are seeing significant housing developments. The Willow Farm area, parents will no doubt be expecting their children to go to Carlton Le Willows. The same can be said for the Teal Close development which will be around 850 new homes.

Gedling Borough Council have been set a target by Central Government of 7,250 new homes in the Borough by 2028. Of which we will see close to 2000 in the Gedling/Netherfield/Carlton area. Surely with this in mind it makes sense to rebuild on the site and create a new secondary school or at least work with existing schools to create another site ran by them.

The former Gedling School site on Wollaton Avenue site is currently owned by Nottinghamshire County Council. Our fear is that the site will be sold for maximum profit and is further developed for housing which then makes the school places issue even worse. This cannot be allowed to happen and as a local resident I am demanding that the council have a full public consultation to decide the future use of that piece of land.

In the process of putting the campaign together, more than one County Councillor has accused the Gedling Labour Council and also Vernon Coaker MP of using this as a political football and scaremongering for political gain around the time of local elections. The fact of the matter is, I put this FOI request in off my own back without prompting from anyone else. I have no affiliation to any political party and in all honesty, I don’t give a monkeys’ who is in charge as long as it’s being ran correctly and is not screwing people over.

With that in mind I would like to dispel any question of using this for political point scoring because it is not what this is about. It is an issue of much more importance than partisan politics. It’s about the Education of our kids and the future of our area and looking at the bigger picture, the future of our Country.

What could be more important than that?

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