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Thatcham school 'close to saturation levels'

Headteacher says he will not be able to accommodate extra pupils if Siege Cross development goes ahead

Thatcham school 'close to saturation levels'

A THATCHAM headteacher has said his school is close to capacity and will struggle to cope if hundreds of new homes are built.

The headteacher of Francis Baily Primary School, Chris Davis, issued the warning in response to the number of children expected to start school in September; and an impending planning appeal.  

Developer A2Dominion is appealing against West Berkshire Council’s decision to refuse its plans for 495 homes at Siege Cross Farm.

The council said that the development would have a “clear and demonstrable harm” to education provision in the town.

The developer had proposed moving part of Francis Baily into a new primary school to be built with the homes. This, the developer argued, would then free up room for Kennet School to expand into Francis Baily. 

The council said the unacceptable proposal would be resisted by parents and a decision would ultimately lie with the Government.

The NWN asked West Berkshire Council what the capacity of Thatcham primary schools was and how many children it predicted to start at each school in September.  

The figures show that Francis Baily is the only primary school in Thatcham set to be oversubscribed.

Francis Baily, which the council says has capacity for 525 pupils, is predicted to have 537 children on roll in September.

The council said it would not have up-to-date figures until the start of the new school year.

Mr Davis said that his school was “close to saturation levels”.

He said that the school had increased its admission number to cater for demand and to ease pressure in Thatcham.

The new limit cannot be exceeded as the majority of classrooms at the school are below the government size limit and unsuitable for classes of 30 pupils. The school limit is currently 27 pupils per class.

Mr Davis said that school infrastructure was suitable for this number of pupils, but the site could not cope with any further expansion.

He said: “If any substantial additional housing were built in our catchment area it is extremely unlikely that we would be able to cater for any significant numbers of school age children arising from it.”

He added that the school was keen to work with West Berkshire Council to ensure children had the best facilities. 

“It would be sad if children living within our catchment area could not secure places at our school due to the limitations on the number of pupils we can accommodate,” he said.

The NWN asked the council if it had plans to increase capacity at the school and whether it had a contingency plan should Siege Cross be approved on appeal.

A spokesman for West Berkshire Council, Martin Dunscombe, said: “Educational attainment is a priority for the council and to achieve this we need to ensure there is adequate school capacity for pupils across the district.

“The Siege Cross planning application was refused on a number of grounds, which included education, but that decision has been appealed.

“We will await the outcome of that decision before considering our next steps.”

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