School places crisis in Cradley Heath and Old Hill

CHILDREN have been unable to start school in Cradley Heath and Old Hill this term because there are not enough places available.

A birth rate “bulge” among the rising fives has been blamed on the shortage of space in the classrooms at primary schools in the area.

Ward councillor Ann Shackleton described the situation as “extremely worrying” and is calling for urgent talks with Sandwell Council education chiefs.

She said more than 60 children did not get their first choice and several are either still at home six weeks into the term or are having to travel to schools in other towns.

“There are a lot of worried and unhappy families and we are trying to sort this out as a matter of urgency,” said Cllr Shackleton.

Timbertree Primary School in Cradley Heath had 40 children apply for 30 places and still has a dozen youngsters on its waiting list.

Headteacher Hayley Walker said it was “a major issue,” which she believes should have been foreseen by the council and action taken earlier.

“For children to miss the first term or two of their school life will cause massive educational damage to them. It is absolutely crucial to get a good start.

“The year one phonics testing, for example, is based on six terms work. If they’ve not had that, they will be behind and that’s not fair on them,” said Mrs Walker.

Other Sandwell schools have seen their pupil admission numbers increased - some to as much as three form entry with 90 children in a year group, while most schools in Cradley Heath and Old Hill are single form entry with just 30 places available in each year.

Mrs Walker said a family had moved into Valley Road - just yards from the school during the summer - but their child was forced to go to school in Tipton because there was no room at Timbertree.

Cabinet member of children and young people Councillor Bob Badham said he had only just been told about the problem and would be meeting with local councillors and education officers.

“It is of serious concern and we will obviously investigate these cases. It may be parental choice that these children are not going to school because they didn’t get the school they wanted,” said Cllr Badham.

He hit back at the claim the council had been slow to act, saying it had got “very good figures on birth rates and influx of new families into the borough.”

“We’ve had to concentrate on where there are massive rises in the number of new pupils and are looking at the whole of the borough - this area has not been forgotten,” he said, adding that the education budget had been hit by “draconian cuts” as a result of the Government’s austerity measures.

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