Published: 11:08, 21 January 2019
| Updated: 12:24, 21 January 2019
The opening of a new secondary school on the former Chaucer site in Canterbury has been put back a year, KentOnline can reveal.
Documents show the new school will now not welcome pupils until 2021, with protracted negotiations having delayed its launch by 12 months.
It is set to open on the derelict site of the former Chaucer Technology School, which closed in 2015 because of dwindling pupil numbers.
Each year will have five forms of 30 pupils, but just 150 children will join Year 7 in September 2021.
The school, which does not yet have a name, will be run by the Barton Court Academy Trust (BCAT), which also oversees the nearby Barton Court Grammar School, and the Charles Dickens School in Broadstairs.
Kirstin Cardus, the executive head teacher of BCAT, says the demolition of the current building is expected to take place in the autumn.
“The new school has frustratingly been constantly delayed over the last 20 months due to protracted negotiations between KCC and the Department for Education over how much of the site will be given over to the school, which is outside the trust’s control,” she said.
“This has resulted in 120 students in September 2020 - as outlined in the Kent Education Commissioning Plan - now not able to be offered a place at the new school as originally planned.
“Now the issues have been resolved, the next phase of the development can begin. Planning applications are expected to be submitted in the early summer with demolition of the current school starting this autumn and with the new school ready to open in September 2021.”
The new school is set to play a vital part in catering for an increase in demand for places caused by huge housing developments in the area.
Canterbury City Council’s Local Plan, which outlines future housebuilding across the district, has identified sites for 16,000 new homes across the district.
A site to the south of the city will host 4,000 of them, and sits within the catchment area of both Barton Court and the former Chaucer site.
KCC predicts an extra 135 Year 7 places will be needed in Canterbury by 2021, rising to 201 by 2023.
Ms Cardus said of the new school: “It has always been designed to accommodate five forms of entry with capacity to increase to six, if needed, based upon KCC projected calculations of pupil numbers in the Canterbury district from 2022 onwards.”
KCC’s cabinet member for children, young people and education, Roger Gough, says the authority is in discussions with schools in the area about providing more Year 7 places over the next two years.
“Much housing development is expected over the coming years, which will result in the need for new school places,” he said.
“In order to deal with this deficit, the Department for Education has given permission for Barton Court Academy Trust to open a new five-form entry secondary school on the former Chaucer School site in Canterbury.
“It is due to open in September 2021 and talks are underway with other secondary schools in the area which may be in a position to provide temporary Year 7 places for 2019 and 2020.
“We are confident we will be able to secure the additional places to meet any pressures until the new school opens.”
Pupils face longer travel in 'desperate situation'
The delay in opening the former Chaucer site has created a “desperate situation” which will force children to travel further afield for their schooling, an education advisor believes.
Kent County Council figures show that comprehensives in Canterbury currently require 49 more places, with the figure projected to rise to 119 by 2020/21.
As a result, Peter Read, of Kent Independent Education Advice, says the choice of schools for children in the city will be “reduced” as they become increasingly oversubscribed.
“It’s a desperate situation at the moment,” he said. “This means that KCC will want to put in another five forms temporarily in the city’s three schools - Archbishop’s, Canterbury Academy and St Anselm’s.
“The Canterbury Academy is probably the only one that can expand, but will it want to? It’s full and over-subscribed with first choices every year. This means parental choice will be reduced and more children will be sent out of the city to Spires, and maybe as far as Whitstable.”
Jon Watson, the executive principal of the Canterbury Academy, says he is unsure how the school will be able to welcome more pupils.
“I don’t know how that would happen when we’re already oversubscribed,” he said. “But if there’s any way we could help, we would.”
Mr Watson also says he has not discussed the idea of increasing the school’s intake with KCC.
Children studying performing arts at the Canterbury Academy are having some of their lessons at the former Chaucer site.
“We have some students on the Chaucer campus, mainly performing artists, to cope with our oversubscription and popularity, but we have had an arrangement with KCC that we would leave the site at the end of this academic year, and that’s as it is,” Mr Watson said.
“We’re gradually winding back our provision on the site before we leave in July 2019.”