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A row over a primary school’s controversial plans to expand has reignited after it submitted plans to build five extra classrooms.

Gatley Primary School wants to increase its yearly intake to three classes - meaning it would accept 90, rather than 60, youngsters every September.

In six years' time there would be an extra 180 youngsters being educated at the Hawthorn Road school, an academy run by the Education Learning Trust.

The school began progressing plans for its expansion some years ago, with an increase to its pupil admission number (PAN) being agreed by the government and regional schools commissioner in 2016.

Despite its academy status, Gatley Primary says the proposals were developed at the request of Stockport council and are simply a case of reacting to local need.

However Gill Holmes, headteacher at Gatley’s other primary school - Lum Head - wrote to parents in December 2018 expressing her ‘sadness’ over the plans.

She said these were being made despite council advising they would have a ‘detrimental impact’ on Lum Head and, moreover, there were already more than enough spaces in the area.

And the recent planning application for five extra classrooms has again sparked controversy, with parents at Lum Head accusing Gatley Primary of trying to ‘hoover up’ pupils in the area and beyond.

They fear it could lead to Lum Head suffering a drop in pupils - and therefore funding - as well as increased traffic problems.

Critics claim a ‘walking bus’ proposed to avoid congestion has previously been trialled without success.

But Vanessa McManus, headteacher at Gatley Primary School, says mitigation measures are 'well advanced' and the application is simply the ‘the latest step’ in a plan that ‘has been in the public domain for several years’.

She said: “Gatley Primary School  Is looking to expand its intake, year-on-year, to three-form entry because we do not have enough places for the children in our catchment area, we simply want to ensure that parents who live inside the Gatley Primary catchment area all have the choice to send their children to their local primary school. 

“The steps Gatley Primary School have taken is in response to local need and involvement of the Local Authority.”

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Mrs McManus acknowledges that her school recruited over its PAN for this academic year. 

But she adds that,  far from having a detrimental impact on Lum Head, figures show the Troutbeck Road school had taken ‘taken a greater number of families from Gatley’s catchment area than the reverse’.

However, the council’s current deputy leader, Coun Tom McGee, is not entirely convinced by the argument.

“They are putting additional capacity at Gatley, if that’s the plan, they will be taking their pupils from other schools - whether that’s near or far.

“As an authority, we try to make sure we provide places for all the children. It’s hard doing that and if you get someone doing this it disrupts any plans you have got, so it is disappointing in that sense.”

And parents at Lum Head claim Gatley Primary is taking advantage of its academy status to ‘offer as many places as it likes’,  ‘overriding’ local concerns and advice.

In 2014 Lum Head itself expanded to take 45, rather than 30, pupils at the start of each academic year, after receiving funding from the council.

Lum Head School (Image: Google)

But parents at the school fear Gatley Primary will draw pupils away, meaning public money spent on increasing capacity at Lum Head will effectively have been wasted.

Cathy Georgeson, who has three children at the school, said: “It is like saying ‘we are going to expand this hospital because it’s better than that other hospital and leaving the other hospital half empty’.

“You can’t pick and choose and leave somewhere empty as a result. At a time when budgets are depressed, I think it’s really poor behaviour.”

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Kendra Goodwin Brown, who has a son in Year 2 at Lum Head, also opposes Gatley Primary’s plan.

She said: “There’s not the demand. We have two really excellent schools with enough places for all the children in Gatley.”

“As a Gatley community member we have two really good schools that should be working together to serve all the children and families of Gatley - not one school acting like a business and trying to hoard all the pupils, trying to shoehorn into an over-subscribed school, when there’s a perfectly good school up on the hill.”

Both parents have also criticised ward councillor Iain Roberts - a former governor at the school - claiming he has  ‘championed' Gatley Primary’s plans, and put its interests ahead of those of the wider community.

However Coun Roberts - who has not been a governor for several years, or involved with the expansion plans -  says this is absolutely not the case.

He said: “We have two excellent schools in Gatley and I would be more than happy for my kids to go to either school. 

“The reality is we have people living close to Gatley Primary not getting places there and having to walk to Lum Head.

“ It’s those families I’m thinking of, it’s not about poaching children from Lum Head, it’s about parental choice.”

He also expressed surprise over the council’s stance, adding that the plans had been discussed as far back as 2013, while the town hall was under Lib Dem control.

A decision on the planning application for five extra classrooms will be made by Stockport council.


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