DETERMINATION

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					                              DETERMINATION


Case reference:             STP/000357

Statutory proposal:         To enlarge the annual intake at Richard Lee
                            Primary School, Coventry from 60 to 90
                            children, from 1st September 2009

Proposer:                   Coventry City Council

Objector:                   The Governing Body of Richard Lee Primary
                            School

Date of decision:           9 December 2008


Determination

Under the powers conferred on me by Paragraph 32 of Schedule 5 to
The School Organisation (Prescribed Alterations to Maintained
Schools)(England) Regulations 2007, I hereby approve the proposal by
Coventry City Council to enlarge the annual intake at Richard Lee
Primary School, Coventry from 60 to 90 children, from 1 st September
2009.

The referral

1.     In October 2008, Coventry City Council (“the Council”) referred to the
Office of the Schools Adjudicator an objection it had received to its decision to
enlarge the annual intake of Richard Lee Primary School (“the School”), a
community school, from 60 to 90 children from 1st September 2009. The
objection was from the School‟s governing body.

Jurisdiction

2.     On 10th July 2008, the Council published its proposal in the form
required by the Act. The Council decided at a meeting of its Cabinet on 9 th
September 2008 to implement its proposal. The School‟s governing body,
exercising its right under Paragraph 33 of Schedule 5 to The School
Organisation (Prescribed Alterations to Maintained Schools) (England)
Regulations 2007 (“the Regulations”), gave notice to the Council of its
objection to the Council‟s action, and the Council referred the objection to the
Adjudicator along with its comments on it, in accordance with the provisions of
the Regulations. I am satisfied that the proposal has been properly referred
to me in accordance with Schedule 5 to the Regulations, and therefore that I
have jurisdiction to determine this matter under the powers conferred on me
by the Regulations.
Procedures

3.     I have considered the proposal as required by the Regulations. I have
had full regard to the guidance given by the Secretary of State. I have also
had regard to the Human Rights Act 1998, and, as required by Schedule 5 to
the 1998 Act, to the relevant provision of The Sex Discrimination Act 1975,
The Race Relations Act 1976 and The Disability Discrimination Act 1995.

4.     I have considered all the papers put before me including:

       the governing body‟s letter of objection and all the accompanying
       letters and other forms of objection

       information from the Council about their proposal;

       Net Capacity Assessments (“NCA”) of the school from 2004 and 2006;

       papers describing the Council‟s processes of consultation and decision
       making with regard to the Council‟s eventual proposal;

      the Ofsted reports for the School, the Play Group and the Out of School
      Club;

      representations by parents and a governor; and

      replies from the Council and the School to questions I posed.

5.      I visited the school on 24th November 2008, to view at first hand the
accommodation at the School and the locality. I discussed the proposal with
representatives of the governing body and the Council, and held a public
meeting on the same day, attended by around 40 representatives of the
Council, governors, staff and parents from the school, and I have considered
the information and representations put to me at that meeting, and the
representations sent to me after the meeting.

The Proposal

6.     The Council‟s proposal is to enlarge the School progressively from two
to three forms of entry each year (that is, from up to 60 to up to 90 children),
beginning with the Reception Year in September 2009, and then for each
succeeding Year R until there are up to 90 children in each year group.

The Objections

7.      The governing body‟s objections focus on a number of issues. Some
of the issues are procedural, and the Council has responded to them. The
governors have complained that they did not receive a full copy of the
proposal, that the School has not been oversubscribed in the last three years
(a point with which I deal below), that the accuracy of the minutes of the
Council‟s meetings with staff, governors and parents were not checked by
anyone who attended, and that the Council‟s letter notifying the School of its
decision about the proposal was delayed for one week. I do not believe that
any of these objections, if proven to be justified, would invalidate the process
or the proposal, since I have taken the governors‟ allegations into account in
assessing the matters referred to, and since, as required, I have in any case
considered the proposal afresh. For these reasons, I do not intend to deal
further with them.

8.     The governors have objected:

       a.    on the grounds that that the School has not been
       oversubscribed for Year R admissions in the last three years. (The
       Council has responded that it was oversubscribed in 2008.)

       b.     on the grounds that „The present building may be able to take
       the extra numbers but it is over 50 years old now with a flat roof that
       was repaired over 20 years ago that is leaking which is making 2
       classrooms not fit for purpose as teaching areas‟. (The Council has
       responded that two classrooms needing repair would not prevent an
       increase in Year R, and that the School has a repairs budget from
       which to deal with the roof problems.)

       c.     that, although there are enough children within the catchment
       area to justify the proposed enlargement, in fact many local parents
       choose other schools in the wider area. (The Council has responded
       by reference to their evidence of demand for school places, which I will
       examine below.)

       d.     that the current playgrounds are insufficient for the present
       school population, with health and safety risks resulting, and that the
       remaining area around the children‟s centre is insufficient for children
       being left and collected from school. The governors have objected that
       the size of school envisaged is not suitable for primary age children
       „without huge detriment to their health and well being‟, and that the
       Council has not taken seriously the “Every Child Matters” agenda.
       They have further objected that the proposal would result in
       unacceptable traffic congestion at the school gates and on surrounding
       roads. (The Council has responded that these issues were taken into
       account, but „were not considered significant enough to outweigh the
       need for extra primary places in the area‟.)

       e.      that immigration to Coventry from overseas has been reversed
       and that none of the expected new housing estates in the area has in
       fact been started. (The Council has responded that such factors were
       included in its planning, and that, even discounting such factors,
       census and Primary Care Trust data indicate increasing future demand
       for primary school places from 2010.)

       f.     that the School is already poorly funded, and that children‟s
       education will suffer if funds have to be diverted to employing infant
       class teachers for classes of less than 30. (The Council has responded
       that budgetary issues have been considered, and that they would be
       considered again should the School run into financial difficulties
       following enlargement.)
I have read the many letters and forms from parents and others in support of
these objections.

Consideration of Factors

9.     Having originally housed two separate schools, the building are
elongated and straddle a sloping site, making for difficulties over establishing
whole-school cohesion, particularly between staff. It is regrettable that, even
with present „surplus‟ accommodation, there is no single staff room.

10.     The school includes two nursery classes with 52 places for children
aged 3 to 4. In addition, a voluntarily provided playgroup occupies one
classroom for up to 48 children in the same age group, although in practice it
is at present accepting children aged 2 ½. The playgroup occupies the
classroom on a casual letting basis, so has no security of tenure. A total of 64
children left the nursery classes and playgroup in 2008, 59 of them for the
School‟s reception classes and 5 of them for a Catholic primary school. A
privately provided out-of-school club operates in the School, providing before-
school, after-school and some holiday care. A children‟s centre was
established on the site during the summer of 2008, providing „drop-in‟ support
for parents with younger children, with teacher support from the School. The
children‟s centre is in a new, permanent building, it is independent of the
School and there are no plans to redevelop the building in the Council‟s
project to replace the School buildings. The Children‟s Centre is therefore not
a direct concern of this adjudication.

Standards of Attainment

11.     The 2008 Ofsted report for the School described the overall
effectiveness of the School as „satisfactory‟, with „a decline in standards‟ over
the last two years. However, the report then spoke of a number of strategies
introduced by the new headteacher that are now „improving teaching and
learning, which are satisfactory‟, „leading to improved standards‟. The 2007
Ofsted report for the playgroup concluded that „The quality and standards of
care are good. . . . The quality and standards of the nursery education are
good.‟ The 2008 Ofsted report for the Out of School Club said, „The quality
and standards of the care are satisfactory‟.

12.     I conclude from these reports, and particularly the report on the School,
that standards are now at least satisfactory and probably improving, and that
there is therefore no reason why the School should not be enlarged if there is
a need for additional places.

Need for places, accommodation and scope for enlargement

13.    Data produced by the Council indicate a likely surplus of primary school
places in the whole of Coventry until 2010-11, and then a likely deficit of 262
places in 2011-2012, rising to 821 in 2012-2013. For Planning Area 3, where
the School is located, demand for primary school places is expected to rise
from a current 496 Year R-aged children to 566 by 2011, against a total of
current planned admissions numbers (“PANs”) of 555, rising to 585 if the
proposal for the School is approved. Some parents and the governors have
raised questions about the validity of the Council‟s projections, particularly in
view of the current down-turn in house construction. However, if additional
places proved not be needed, they would not be taken up. There is
nevertheless a risk of some classes resulting of less than 30, with budgetary
implications that I will address below.

14.    There has been a rise in the number of applications for Year R places
at the School between 2007 and 2008, with first preference applications rising
from 51 to 66, second preference applications rising from 29 to 37 and all
applications rising from 123 to 165. Comparison with the numbers of Year R-
aged children in the School‟s catchment area (standing at 100 in 2007 and 92
in 2008 and expected to rise to 120 by 2011) seems to indicate that the
School is popular with parents. The data provided for the other schools in
Planning Area 3 seem to indicate little present scope for admitting additional
children, except at two schools distant from the School‟s vicinity, and little
scope for physically enlarging schools, except at one more distant school.
Further data supplied by the Council indicate that 66.8% of children in Year R
at the School in January 2008 were from within its catchment area, and
almost no children from within the catchment areas of the more distant
schools referred to above in terms of vacancies and potential enlargement.
The Council expects that the School would be filled with an intake of 90 by
2010.

15.      The School was until recently classed as a three-form-entry school,
able to accept 90 children in each year group. However, in September 2005,
the School was re-designated for 60 children in each year group, with some
classrooms being re-designated for specific art and music purposes. The
Council now wishes to encourage the School to return these areas to general
classroom use, which it believes will not compromise the teaching of art and
music. The NCA for 2004 produced capacity figures that led to a net capacity
for 630 pupils and an admissions number of 90. The NCA for 2007 produced
capacity figures that supported a net capacity of 420, leading to an
admissions number of 60. The Council has explained that this exercise in,
apparently, reducing capacity was intended „to manage surplus places as a
means to obtaining capital funding for other school purposes‟. While I find
artificially reducing capacity in this way to be somewhat disingenuous, I am
aware that the Council is not alone in employing such tactics. However, I am
left with some sympathy with governors and staff, who have to implement the
results of such practices, and who are now expected to„re-cycle‟ some
teaching areas once more. It is unfortunate that the Council encouraged the
use of classrooms for specialist teaching, and now wishes them to be
withdrawn from specialist use when any need for them would be magnified by
the admission of more children. It is the Council‟s intention that „the school is
planned to be rebuilt as a 3 FE school for September 2011 as part of
Coventry‟s Primary Strategy for Change approved by the DCSF‟. However,
discussion with representatives of the Council revealed that this timetable is
by no means certain. I shall, therefore, take into account that the School
could, if the Council‟s proposal is approved, need to function at three-form-
entry size for some time in its current buildings.
16.    In the context of enlargements that have taken place at other schools in
Planning Area 3 in September 2008, and in the context of all the factors
described above, it is not unreasonable that what was formally surplus
accommodation at the School should be brought back into use as a
contribution to resolving the anticipated shortage of primary school places in
Coventry as a whole, in Planning Area 3 and, more particularly, in the
School‟s immediate area.

17.     I have examined the availability of classrooms at the School, with
particular reference to the two NCAs with which I have been provided and to
my own observations during my visit to the School. All the classrooms are of
a generous size, and there is no doubt that there are sufficient classrooms for
a return to three-form-entry size. However, it is likely that, if the new buildings
are not provided in time, the School will progressively have to sacrifice its
specialist art, music, small-groups, playgroup and other rooms. However, my
examination of the NCAs and observations during my visit has also revealed
that other, less spacious; rooms are available for these purposes, provided
that at least some whole-class art and music teaching takes place within
normal classrooms and halls. Staff-room accommodation is at present split
between several rooms, and it would be preferable, and important for informal
professional communication, for every effort to be made to provide one single
staff-room adequate for all staff.

18.     The Council‟s representatives have explained that, since the playgroup
is not a formal part of educational provision at the School, its location within
the School cannot be guaranteed in the long term. The Council has stated as
follows.

       „The Playgroup would not be forced to close immediately as the
       arrangements for increasing admission numbers would apply to the
       reception class only in Sept 2008 and then gradually work through the
       school until it reached all year groups by 2015. Arrangements can be
       made to continue with the playgroup during this period as the school
       Governors make decisions about how the school is organised and used
       moving forward [sic]. It should also be recognised that the school is due
       to be rebuilt during this period and opportunities for continuing pre-
       school provision on the school site would be considered at this time.‟

I have enquired about likely demand for pre-school places in the future. The
Council has provided me with data that indicate that, at present, 53% of 3-
year olds in Planning Area 3 attend an early year‟s provision of some kind.
The data indicate that, if the playgroup were eventually obliged to close, there
would still be sufficient overall provision in Planning Area 3 for 80% of the
largest foreseeable cohort of pre-school age children still to be able to attend.
I conclude that, regrettable as the closure of the playgroup would be for those
associated with it, with an opportunity lost for the close liaison that exists with
the School (alongside the nursery classes), there would still be generous
provision of pre-school places in the neighbourhood.
19.     In response to concerns about playground areas, the Council has
assured correspondents that compared with a Government recommendation
of 3205 square meters for a three-form-entry school; the School has 3396
square metres. I have been assured that this measurement reflects the
position after the children‟s centre was established on the infant playground
and a replacement playground provided. There are in fact now six outdoor
play areas (not counting that belonging to the children‟s centre): two at the
junior end of the School for Years 3 and 4 and Years 5 and 6, respectively;
and, at the infant end of the school, one for the nursery classes, one for Year
R (with some use by the playgroup), one for Year 1 and one for Year 2.
Although none of these playgrounds is over-large, my observation on the
ground supports the view that they are adequate, given the limited age range
of children using each area, and given the staggered play times that are
already in place.

20.    The governors have objected that an increase in the size of the School
would pose risks to children‟s health and safety and compromise the Council‟s
commitment of the „every child matters‟ aims. I have not been presented with
evidence that leads me to believe that, with careful planning by the governors
and headteacher, advised and supported by the Council, this would
necessarily be the case. My attention has been drawn to the congestion that
occurs around the pedestrian area near to the children‟s centre when parents
are collecting younger children at the end of the school day. I have myself
observed the total usage of available road-side parking by some of these
parents, with some straying on to the prohibited yellow zigzag areas. Thes e
problems are real, and, although I do not believe they are sufficient of their
own to warrant rejection of the proposal, I do believe that they should be
addressed in terms of such measures as additional paving on the premises for
pedestrians and the School‟s travel plan.

Community Considerations

21.    I have been given no information about the School‟s contribution to
community cohesion. However, the 2008 Ofsted report graded „the extent to
which learners make a positive contribution to the community‟ as „good‟. I
have no reason to think that current practice would not be continued in an
enlarged school

Finance

22.    The Council is clear that no capital expenditure is envisaged in the
process of returning the School to three-form-entry size. There is evidence of
some neglect of the physical condition of the buildings, which are in sad need
of painting and of repairs to some leaking roof areas. The governors have
protested that they receive limited funding, and claim that they are one of the
poorest schools in Coventry in terms of per capita funding. Nevertheless,
these buildings matters are the responsibility of the governors, as are matters
such as pedestrian waiting areas on the School premises, and I agree with the
Council that the resolution of such issues should not be a bar to an
enlargement of the School‟s intake. The governors are concerned about the
implications for their budget if it should prove necessary to engage staff for
classes, particularly infant classes, of less than 30 children. The Council has
responded to this concern by reference to the enhanced funding that primary
schools receive to deal with this eventuality and to the fact that parts of
schools‟ financial allocations are made in lump sum form to take into account
the premises costs of schools with less than a full complement of children. I
do not minimise the governors‟ financial concerns, but I wish to draw to their
attention the following statement by the Council.

      „Where schools are in budgetary difficulties there are various support
      mechanisms that can be pursued to balance the budget. As a last
      resort, the Local Authority has a budget allocated for schools in
      exceptional circumstances, to which school can apply for funding. The
      Local Authority make decisions on allocation of this budget in
      consultation with the Schools Forum.‟

Conclusion

23.    In the course of considering the governing body‟s objections to the
Council‟s proposal, I have, as is required, considered the proposal afresh.
Despite my reservations about the strategy of deflating and inflating the
apparent capacity of the School to suit the fluctuating demand for school
places, I believe that the Council has justified its proposal, and has
satisfactorily responded to the governors‟ objections, as I have outlined
above. I am therefore not upholding the objections, and am approving the
Council‟s proposal.

24.    However, I wish to encourage the Council to work with the governors
and the headteacher as they shoulder their responsibility for outstanding
issues, particularly those of:

      funding for the transitional period of returning the premises to suitability
      for the purposes of a three-form-entry school;

      the desirability of a staff room to accommodate all staff; and

      traffic and pedestrian access.

Determination

Under the powers conferred on me by Paragraph 32 of Schedule 5 to The
School Organisation (Prescribed Alterations to Maintained Schools)(England)
Regulations 2007, I hereby approve the proposal by Coventry City Council to
enlarge the annual intake at Richard Lee Primary School, Coventry from 60 to
90 children, from 1st September 2009.

                                 Dated:    9 December 2008

                                 Signed:




                                 Schools Adjudicator: Canon Richard Lindley