Labour Stages Secondary School Places Education Summit

Fears for the future of Joseph Hood School

Labour is holding a special meeting on Saturday (July 25) to talk about the secondary school places crisis facing Merton.

Campaigners are fearing that the hunt to find more vital school places in the Wimbledon area threatens Joseph Hood Primary School in Whatley Avenue, Wimbledon Chase.

Labour Councillor, and ex-Cabinet education chief, Peter Walker claims there are plans to hand over the school over to the Harris Federation for a new free secondary school.

But current Cabinet Member for Education, Councillor Martin Whelton, says Saturday's briefing session for Labour members at the Civic Centre in Morden will make no decisions on the issue.

Councillor Walker said he has contacted Labour members in Merton saying: "I know that discussions have been held regarding handing over the site of Joseph Hood Primary to the Harris Academy so they can set up a free school for secondary aged children. The site would comprise the current Merton Adult Education building in Whatley Avenue and the adjacent Joseph Hood site.

"I believe this plan to be wrong morally and a threat to the education of 300 pupils at Joseph Hood School. Having personally sanctioned the expansion of this school in 2011 at a cost to the public purse of £4.8m I find this plan repugnant as do most impartial observers. For this reason I do hope those who want to protect this much valued school attend and make their feelings clear to Martin Whelton and his Cabinet colleagues."

Councillor Whelton pointed out that London Councils this week announced that London needs 35,000 additional secondary places. "Merton Labour takes this issue seriously and we are therefore looking at ways of expanding secondary schools in Mitcham and building a new secondary school in Wimbledon where the existing secondary schools are not in a position to expand.

"The meeting will outline the level of need in Merton and the council's approach to this so far, including looking at expanding some of our existing schools in Mitcham and working with Harris academy to provide a new school in the Wimbledon area where the existing secondary schools are currently not in a position to expand.

"The session will inform Labour Councillors and Labour Party members of the challenge we face and the different options the council and the government’s Education and Funding Agency, who are responsible for finding a site for the new school, are investigating.  However no decisions will be made at the briefing session which is intended to ensure all our Councillors and Labour Party members understand the huge challenge we, along with other councils in London, face in ensuring all our young people can go to a good local secondary school," he said.

Councillor Whelton also made the following points:

  • Due to the rise in birth rate, the council has a legal duty to create 2,000 additional places in our secondary schools
  • The council has already identified three schools in Mitcham that can be expanded – Harris Merton, Harris Morden and St Marks Academy
  • However we urgently need to create more secondary places in Wimbledon, where the existing schools are not currently in a position to expand
  • Council officers have therefore identified a need for a new secondary school in the Wimbledon area
  • The government has approved Harris as the provider of the new school
  • Harris already runs two of Merton’s secondary schools and provides an excellent standard of education and late last year they expressed interest in the Whatley Avenue site for their proposed new school.
  • There is a lack of available sites for a new school – the council commissioned an independent report in 2013 which looked at all the options and has given this report to the EFA.
  • The government’s Education Funding Agency (EFA) is legally responsible for finding a site for the new school and they are carrying out their own site search.  The council has shared information on its own site searches and we expect the EFA to announce their preferred site for a new secondary school in the autumn.
  • No decisions on any sites have been made.
July 23, 2015