'Langford Village Academy needs expanding - it can't provide for children from new houses' says frustrated mum
'The families will have moved to a village to enjoy village life, but their children won't be able to go to the local school'
A Langford parent is demanding answers from Central Bedfordshire Council about the future of school places for village children.
Mum-of-two Nicola Henley claims she had to fight to get her son into his local school, Langford Village Academy, after the PAN (pupil admission number) for reception students was reduced.
The PAN was changed due to plans to transition the school from the three to two tier system, and accommodate new pupils in Year 5 and 6.
However, Nicola argues that with all the building work taking place in the village, far from reducing the number of new pupils, the school should be expanding.
Nicola claimed: "I am the mother of a child who was recently denied a place at Langford Village Academy, to start in reception this year (2021/22). There were four other families in the same boat as us from the village and seven others from elsewhere.
"It may not seem like a big deal but over the last five years and over the coming two, there will have been over 500 new houses built in the village and this year, because of the change from three tier to two tier, Central Beds Council decided to reduce the PAN from 45 to 30.
"Where are these children going to go to school? The families will have moved to a village to enjoy village life, but their children won't be able to go to the local school."
Nicola said that she had asked Central Beds Council why new blocks or floors couldn't be built at the school to allow for more pupils, but claimed that council says the site is "constrained".
"But it seems there is plenty of space if you look on Google Maps," argued Nicola.
She added: "If the S106 money from the 500 plus houses being built in Langford isn't being spent on expanding the school - what is it being spent on? We've asked Central Beds Council this question many times and we're yet to get an answer."
Last September, Nicola and her husband put in an application for her son to go to Langford Village Academy, with Raynsford CofE Academy and Clifton All Saints Academy as their second and third choices.
They thought that it was "pretty much guaranteed" that he would get in, and if not, it's "assumed that you will get your second choice".
However, the family were shocked when their son was allocated a place at Lawnside Academy, Biggleswade, because it was was the nearest school with vacancies.
After doing some research, Nicola claims she discovered that Clifton and Raynsford were also oversubscribed.
Nicola questioned: "What I found hilarious is that the council's Schools for the Future programme is all about sustainable modes of transport - how is driving my son to and from Biggleswade every day sustainable?"
"Schools for the Future is also supposed to bring a community feel - but not if he has to leave his village and preschool friends.
"What will happen to all these children who can't go to their village school?"
Nicola contacted the Department for Education, and was informed that: "In March 2020 Central Bedfordshire Council (CBC) made the decision to move from 3 to 2 tier educational provision in the Shefford and Stotfold cluster area as a part of a wider move to a 2 tier structure across the local authority (LA). A formal consultation was carried out by CBC between 3rd October 2019 and 20th January 2020 that sought views about both the LA’s overall proposal and each individual school. 21 responses were received for Langford Village Academy, with 58% of respondents agreeing or strongly agreeing with the proposal."
However, Nicola claims this was not well publicised - especially to families who would have been sending their first child to school.
Frustrated with her experience and the plans to build new homes despite the lack of places, Nicola launched a petition - 'Expand Langford Village Academy' - which reached 430 signatures.
It was closed and submitted to CBC last Friday (July 9).
Meanwhile, after fighting her case, her son and the four other village children have been accepted into Langford Village Academy. However, Nicola added: "CBC have made it very clear that this will not happen again and that any extra children will be sent elsewhere. We think this is wrong."
A Central Bedfordshire Council spokesperson said: “Changes to the age range of Langford Village Academy are part of the Schools for the Future programme. The school sits within the Shefford and Stotfold area, where a decision was made in June last year, after public consultation, for all the schools in the area to move to the primary/secondary model of education.
“We are working closely with the school and the academy trust and engaging with parents to look at the future need for school places.
“Langford Village Academy will change to a primary school from September, along with other schools in Shefford, Stotfold and the surrounding area. This is part of the Schools for the Future programme, the aim of which is to move towards a primary and secondary model of education and ensure the area has the right number of schools places to meet need.
“Forecasts for school places in this area were based on data at the time the Schools for the Future proposals were made in 2019, but we regularly review our forecasts for what is needed in the future. We will do this in Langford in partnership with Bedfordshire Schools Trust.
“For any change in the number of places or age ranges at an academy school this will be done by an academy trust applying directly to the independent Regional Schools Commissioner.
“In terms of school places, it is not uncommon for there to be more applications than can be accommodated, particularly for popular or smaller schools. And while no place is guaranteed, if a parent’s preference cannot be met, a place will be allocated at the nearest school. We are pleased for Ms Henley that a satisfactory resolution was reached.
“It is regrettable if any parent is unaware of proposals and decisions made in relation to the Schools for the Future programme. Each stage of the process has been publicised extensively, both in this newspaper, via the schools and Trusts in the area, as well as all of our available public-facing channels. We would urge all parents to visit www.schoolsforthefuture.co.uk/keep-up-to-date to find out the ways that they can receive news and information about Schools for the Future where they live.
"Sustainable transport is not part of the Schools for the Future programme proposals as suggested. However, sustainable transport is offered in accordance with our Home to School Transport Policy. More info here: https://www.centralbedfordshire.gov.uk/info/3/schools_and_education/530/apply_for_school_transport "
Dr Alan Lee, Chief Executive Officer of the Bedfordshire Schools Trust, said: “We sympathise with the situation that the Henleys and other families found themselves in this year, and are pleased we have been able to find a way to accommodate their children at Langford Village Academy.
"As the local authority, Central Bedfordshire Council has a statutory responsibility for ensuring there are sufficient school places for children in its area. We have already shared with CBC that we believe Langford should expand to meet the future needs of the local community and we’ve joined a working group to address this."
For background infomation, the Trust added: "The families did appeal but in the meantime we at BEST took the decision to go over our stated PAN (Published Admission Number) and find places for them – therefore the appeals were never needed to be heard.
"There was a 12-week non statutory consultation that CBC carried out between 29 October 2019 and 20 January 2020.
"There was then a 4-week statutory consultation by CBC between 2 and 30 June 2020. With statutory consultations, CBC is only obliged to consult on the changes to the 10 maintained schools (ie, the schools under its control).
"The consultation document did detail the proposed changes to the 12 academies in the Shefford and Stotfold cluster, and encouraged interested parties to submit comments direct to the academies, rather than as part of the consultation.
"At BEST we ran our own consultation aligned to these June dates which we communicated as a trust and via our schools: