Newham’s youth councillor on why we need to create school places – quickly

Cllr Quintin Peppiatt hosted a languages conference at Sarah Bonnell School.

Cllr Quintin Peppiatt hosted a languages conference at Sarah Bonnell School. - Credit: Archant

Looking after one of the largest young populations in the country is a challenging job but it’s one Cllr Rev Quintin Peppiatt has dedicated himself to.

Labour MP Stephen Twigg together with teacher James Dawson, left, talk to five-year-old Liam Girling

Labour MP Stephen Twigg together with teacher James Dawson, left, talk to five-year-old Liam Girling at School 21, Stratford. - Credit: Archant

Newham Council’s cabinet member for children and young people has spent the best part of 20 years monitoring the shifting nature of young people entering the borough and trying to accommodate their needs.

Since 2008, the number of children needing a school place has increased by 25 per cent and the council has had to create 10,500 primary school places - equivalent to 50 new forms of entry - to teach all Newham children.

The Department for Education duly chose to award the local authority with a Basic Educational Needs grant of £48m to help them provide extra places.

This week, Margaret Hodge MP also raised concerns as chairman of the Public Accounts Committee that the £5bn put aside by the DfE to tackle the problem is not sufficient to create all the school places needed.

According to Cllr Peppiatt, the council has long identified the need for primary school places in inner London’s most over-crowded borough.

Parents are only beginning to see the fruits of many years of planning with nearly 90 per cent of pupils getting to attend their first choice of primary school last year.

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Cllr Peppiatt explains: “We have been banging on about it for a long time and we’ve been planning for this situation for the last decade at least.

“That’s not to say it isn’t still a struggle. It is because of the way certain areas of density are concentrated in the borough.

“I mean, I could create all the school places down in the Docks because the land is there but then I’d have the parents in East Ham, Plaistow, and Manor Park saying quite rightly ‘why am I having to drive my child two miles away every day to go to school?’

“So the approach we’ve taken is building on our old primary schools, rather than building new ones.”

Cllr Peppiatt says the matter involves him checking how many vacancies are needed on a weekly basis.

One week, he claims, 40 new pupils in the borough were in need of a primary school place.

Cllr Peppiatt said: “We do not know how the benefit cap will affect families in the area either.

“It could mean that parents cannot afford to live in inner London boroughs and move out or, equally, we could have more families move into Newham from Westminster - there are simply so many variables.

“But I honestly think we have been good at creating places. At the moment, it’s been quite successful.”

The council approved the first stage of planning for the next phase in their Primary Schools Expansion Programme last week which will see five schools built up including the John F Kennedy Special School in Stratford which will double in size.

However, Cllr Peppiatt does not see such a crisis in providing secondary school places for when the little ones grow up - mainly thanks to the swathe of free schools and academies about to spring up in the borough and planned expansions to Stratford School Academy, in Upton Lane, Forest Gate, and Little Ilford School in Browning Road, Manor Park.

So far 26 of the 41 new forms of entry needed have already been taken care of and Cllr Peppiatt even foresees having more secondary school places than pupils in as little as four years time.

He added: “I think the schools are interested in coming to east London simply because there are enough children here to fill them.

“My only problem with Mr Gove’s plan is we’ve got to make sure they are quality buildings. You can’t teach in a tin shack.”

But neighbouring boroughs, such as Barking & Dagenham which is number one in London for increased admissions, has had to consider just classroom alternatives with talk of teaching in pubs and vacant Woolworths premises.

“That would be the last resort,” says Cllr Peppiatt, “and we would look at using community centres.

“But I really think we can accommodate these new pupils by building on our existing schools because nowhere else can really offer facilities for teaching.”