Tunbridge Wells primary places under pressure
PRESSURE on primary school places in Tunbridge Wells is set to reach boiling point within the next two years, according to latest birth rate figures.
Thanks to a baby boom at the start of this decade it is projected that, by September 2014, the number of surplus places available to children joining reception classes is to fall by a staggering 83 per cent.
Set against recent birth figures, eight Tunbridge Wells primary schools are set to be over capacity by the 2014-15 academic year.
Steve Lukacs, a governor and parent at St James' Juniors – one of those schools that could be affected – fears it could be worse.
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The father of three said: "There's not just a blip in birth rates – more and more people are moving to the area and this is not factored into the forecasts."
This academic year there were 366 spare places, but by 2014-15 this is expected to fall to just 61.
The Courier obtained the alarming figures from Kent County Council using the Freedom Of Information Act.
We discovered eight schools – Bishops Down Primary, St James' Infants and St James' Junior Schools, St Augustine's Primary, St Barnabas Primary, St John's Primary, Southborough Primary and Speldhurst Primary – are on the danger list of those soon to be over capacity.
Parents will inevitably find it harder to get their children into their preferred school – unless new schools are built or existing ones expand.
Vicki Mitchell, 29, of Auckland Road, Tunbridge Wells, has been through the torture of applying for a primary school place.
The mother of three was fortunate her son Harrison, four, secured a spot at St Barnabas' Church of England Primary.
She said: "It's a stressful lottery. I was really worried he may not get in and get a school miles away."
Mother-of-two Michelle Sudder may not be as lucky. The teacher at the Little Forest Children's Centre, in Sherwood, is facing a parent's nightmare.
There is a possibility her twin daughters, Hannah and Rachel, could be forced to attend separate schools in September: Stocks Green Primary and Hildenborough Church of England.
Mrs Sudder, who lives in Hildenborough, said: "I have been told because of the high population density and the number of siblings already in the school, my daughters may have to go to two different schools."
Our figures show that pressure on school places in September 2011 was such that four oversubscribed schools in Tunbridge Wells were forced to create a total of 120 extra spaces.
St James' Infants has taken on 40 more reception pupils in two years. For this year alone the school in Sandrock Road received 249 applications for 90 places.
Head teacher Mel Shackleton ruled out any more additional places.
"We've been there, done that," she said. "It has put pressure on resources but we've coped so far.
"We don't feel the children have suffered in any way. It's difficult to tell what the future will hold but we will be taking just 70 from September."
Over the years more young families have been moving to Tunbridge Wells for its good schools.
Mr Lukacs believes this influx will not suddenly stop overnight.
"With more homes to be built in the next few years, the situation is only going to get worse," he said.
More than 1,500 new homes have been built within a three-mile radius of Tunbridge Wells town centre in five years.
They represent just a quarter of the 6,000 homes the borough council has earmarked to go up between 2006 and 2026.
The town centre is having to accommodate the lion's share of those – about 70 per cent.
According to campaign group Population Matters, the average number of births per woman has risen from 1.6 in 2001 to 2.0 now.
National figures suggest a squeeze on school places is likely to peak in 2015, when an additional 350,000 primary places could be needed across England.
Population Matters's chief executive Simon Ross warned: "Endless population growth is not in the interests of this or of future generations.
"If the government is serious about sustainability, it also needs to take the lead in encouraging people to have smaller families."
Rusthall St Paul's Primary is currently below capacity, with 223 children filling 286 spaces this year. By 2014-15, there could be 266 there.
In spite of this sudden increase, head teacher Carolyn Cohen is confident her school has the resources to cope, or grow.
She said: "Our school numbers have risen over the years. We are thriving in our popularity.
"We've certainly got the facilities to cope and grow as a school."