Friday, 10 July 2020

Moving secondary school ‘would leave massive gap’

MOVING Watlington’s secondary school would leave a “massive hole” in the community, says the chairman of the parish council.

Matt Reid made the comment during a discussion of proposals to expand Icknield Community College in Love Lane.

Oxfordshire County Council, the education authority, wants to expand the school from 140 new places per year to 170 with a total roll of 850 from next year.

But it says further expansion will be required in the future and has put forward two options, depending on whether the proposed Chalgrove Airfield development of 3,000 homes goes ahead.

If the extra houses are built, the council and the school will discuss relocating and expanding the college up to 1,500 places.

If the development does not go ahead, a smaller scale expansion would be needed to create up to 1,000 places and this would require additional land.

Councillor Reid said: “The community would have a massive hole in it if we lost Icknield.

“It’s the primary employer, it gives a real heart to the community and it forms an important buffer in terms of the relationship to Pryton. If Icknield Community College closes and they build a new school in Chalgrove what happens to the site? This is one of the big unknowns. It will increase the density of the town if it becomes infill development.

“As always, we have to choose our fights and this is definitely one we have to pick, I think.”

Cllr Reid said the current school was “falling apart” so a new building in the long-term would be better for everybody.

He said the site was worth between £8 and £9million according to the county council and the proceeds from the sale of the land would have to go towards a new school at the airfield site.

The town would need to retain the sports hall and playing fields.

The council would not entertain the idea of two sites, he added.

Vice-chairman Ian Hill said: “Rather than having everything in Chalgrove, if they do move there they could use the site that’s left as a sixth form college, which would probably be needed.

“It would at least provide an educational facility in the town.” Councillor Tim Horton said the contribution of a school to the community was “enormous” and losing it would be “extremely sad”.

He suggested the site could be used by other educational
institutions.

A consultation on the proposed expansion by the Acer Academy Trust, to which the school belongs, closed on Friday.

The county council says demand for secondary school places in the Watlington area is expected to grow over the coming years for three reasons:

• Pupil numbers in local primary schools have risen because the birth rate went up in the early/mid 2000s and those children are now reaching secondary school age. In addition, there has been significant housing development in some parts of Icknield’s catchment area, especially Chinnor and Benson.

• More housing development is expected as it is included in South Oxfordshire District Council’s core strategy and in some neighbourhood plans. The timescale for these homes is less certain.

• The district council’s local plan, which is due to be adopted by the end of this year, proposed development of Chalgrove Airfield. This means that schools needs to be able to meet the short-term increase in demand without compromising the ability to respond to longer-term changes.

The county council is proposing to meet the need for secondary school places by also expanding Wallingford School, which serves Benson, from 190 places per year to 242 and this is already under way.

It also wants to expand Lord Williams’s School in Thame from 320 places per year to 350 from 2022.

To meet the need of pupils already in primary schools, it cannot wait until there is certainty over Chalgrove Airfield and needs to plan an interim expansion to 170 places per year.

Once the longer-term picture becomes more certain, there will be further public consultation on the plans for Icknield.

The next step would be for the trust to apply to the regional schools commissioner for permission to expand.

The college revealed plans to create a sixth form in 2014. It had hoped to take 30 sixth-form students in its first year and to have about 120 in the long term.

The idea was scrapped the following year. Headteacher Mat Hunter said at the time that the school couldn’t guarantee student numbers as many had applied to other institutions, such The Henley College, to study A-levels.

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