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New primary school is 'contentious issue in local community'

Concerns around eligibility for pupils at the new prospective Catholic Primary school, Sir John Henry Newman, were among the issues addressed in the Hampton Parish Council meeting last week.
"The council will have to work with the school to make this the best for the local area"

A discussion on the current application regarding the new school on Aqua Drive also looked at physical concerns, but Cllr Chris Wiggin also addressed issues surrounding the admission criteria of the Hampton school. 

Stating his concerns, Cllr Wiggin said: "The primary school is a contentious issue in the community, lots of people have raised complaints. Not that the school itself is being built but the nature of the school being selective - there have been concerns raised about ensuring local children have access to local schools.

"There are people in Hampton for example who have to send their children as far as Huntingdon to go to school, so the residents have asked questions about this. I’m not sure if it is a relevant planning concern to object to an application but it is worth noting the strength of feeling there."

Cllr John Howard added: "It is an emotive issue. Really the application is about the specifics of the planning of the school, the design and the structure and we can discuss those if anyone has anything that needs to be looked at.

"The other issue which Cllr Wiggin has raised is outside of the parish, some of these concerns need to be met by the council with the school. The council will have to work with the school to make this the best for the local area, everyone wants that for the area. It is a separate matter from the application itself."

Chair Cllr Karen Toynton-Ward added that the school had been approved already, adding: "I don't think we can comment, it's not a planning issue. However, presumably some of the Hargate and Vale children will apply to the school."

Cllr Wiggin continued: "I think one of the main concerns is that as a selective school it’s not just serving local children it’s serving the wider Catholic community.

"There are potential questions to be asked about transport, car access, how people are getting to the school – I think they’re expecting half and half from local and outside. We’re in a position where we can comment as a parish council but we can’t formally object if we want to because it’s not in our parish area even though it does affect us."

The councillors agreed that the discussion of the school wasn't something for the parish council meeting, as Hampton Water is out of the parish area, though they raised concerns of the potential issue of traffic. 

However, in relation to concerns by residents and addressed by Cllr Wiggin, a spokesperson from Sir John Henry Newman said: "The Diocese has committed that, should there be more children wanting a place at St John Henry Newman than there are places available, then 20% of places will be allocated on the basis of distance from the school, with no reference to faith. This is set out in the school’s published admissions policy for 2022/23.

"Like all schools, the Governing Body of St John Henry Newman School must review the admissions policy every year and consult widely if it proposes to change it from previous years. The Diocese will require the Governing Body to closely analyse every year where the children that are admitted and any that are refused a place at the school live, to see whether a significant number of local children are unable to get a place at the school.

"Similarly, it will also be required to assess whether a significant number of Catholic children are not getting a place at the school. This information will inform whether the admissions policy needs to change in the subsequent years after opening.

"We wish to reiterate that the Diocese has agreed with Peterborough City Council that it is willing to open additional classes if there is sufficient demand. However, no school, Catholic or non-Catholic, can guarantee a place for any child and is prohibited from doing so by legislation.

"This is because we can’t predict exactly how many children will be living in an area at a particular time and what school parents might want for their child. This only becomes clearer once parents have applied for a school place and even then numbers can change as children move into and out of an area. We believe that St John Henry Newman will be a Catholic school that serves the local Hampton community."

A spokesperson from Peterborough City Council added: "Sir John Henry Newman is a new school to provide school places for a new development in the East Hamptons. Expansion of existing schools would not have been an appropriate approach.

"The school's Governing Body will review its admissions arrangements on an annual basis. 

"The over-admissions which prioritise children of faith will only apply where applications exceed the number of places available. In the first year, the Diocese proposes a split of 20 per cent open spaces to 80 per cent faith-based spaces if over-subscription occurs. 

"However, it has repeated its commitment to ensure the admission arrangements continue to meet the needs of the local community, which is the case in other schools run by the Diocese successfully and without over-subscription issues in the city."