School set to lose pupils if it can’t build extension

School set to lose pupils if it can’t build extension

School set to lose pupils if it can’t build extension

First published in News

A POPULAR Hampshire academy school will be forced to “shrink” because of strict Government rules, an MP has protested.

Mark Hoban used a Commons debate to highlight the dilemma at Cams Hill School in his Fareham constituency, which is desperate to admit more pupils.

Instead, the school faces cutting the number of children in each year group from 240 back to 210, having failed to win Government permission to build an extension.

In the Commons, Mr Hoban urged ministers to give academies – which are independent of local authorities – the same freedoms enjoyed by further education colleges.

That would allow them to borrow cash to expand and create badly-needed new places “off balance sheet” – without it adding to the £110 billion-plus Government deficit.

Mr Hoban said: “For a brief period under the last Labour Government, academies could borrow – and Cams Hill used this freedom to fund a new sports hall.

“It paid off its loan and now wants to borrow to increase its intake permanently, because it is over-subscribed.

“It has temporarily increased its intake to Year 7 by 30, but capacity constraints mean that this isn’t permanent.

“Borrowing would enable it to expand – but borrowing is not an option.”

Only 142 of 518 applications were accepted over a 17-month period, Mr Hoban warned, adding: “That is almost 400 schools where children and their parents had to be turned away.”

In reply, schools minister Elizabeth Truss described the Fareham MP’s ideas as “very interesting” and pledged that her officials would consider them.

And she said that five academy requests to borrow money had recently been approved, adding: “We would like good schools to have the flexibility to expand.”

But she warned: “Commercial borrowing is rarely considered to be good value for money, because the interest and financial charges are generally higher than rates available to the Government.”

There are at least 16 academy schools in Southampton – and about 40 across Hampshire – that would gain from new freedoms to borrow.

The county has been pinpointed as an area facing a looming shortage of school places and has few ‘free schools’, the Government’s preferred route for coping with extra pupils.

Speaking afterwards, Mr Hoban said he was convinced that his proposal could yet be included in the Conservative manifesto for next year’s General Election.

He said: “I believe this is a door that will open if I keep pushing it.”

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