New school to ease places shortage in Croydon in doubt as bids rejected
PLANS for a new school to ease the chronic shortage of primary places in Croydon have stalled after the council rejected the only remaining bids to run it.
Oasis Community Learning and Hindu education charity I-Foundation both applied to open a school on the site of the Davidson Centre, in Addiscombe.
But both bids have been thrown out amid concerns regarding their ability and capacity to run a school which will eventually cater for 840 pupils.
The school is earmarked to open in September with an initial intake of 120 boys and girls.
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Now the council faces a race against time to meet this deadline and avoid saddling more Croydon schools with 'bulge' classes.
What kind of school do you think the former Davidson Centre should become? Let us know by voting in the poll on the right of this page and in the comments below
The Advertiser understands it may turn to Absolute Return for Kids (ARK) which already runs Oval Primary Academy in Cherry Orchard Road. The charity expressed an interest when the proposals were put forward but did not submit a formal bid.
Oasis Community Learning's application to open an academy in the Davidson Centre was rejected because of its poor record at primary level in Croydon.
The charity has failed to improve Key Stage 2 results since it was brought in to revive failing Ashburton Community School, in Addiscombe, in September 2009.
The school, now named Oasis Academy Shirley Park, posted among the worst Key Stage 2 results in the country following exams last May.
It currently sits bottom of the borough's league table, with only 39 per cent of pupils achieving Level 4 or more in English and maths – the benchmark standard expected of an 11-year-old – an 8 per cent drop from 2010 and significantly less than the expected standard of 60 per cent.
The I-Foundation collected 6,400 signatures in support of their plan to open a new voluntary aided school.
But the Hindu organisation, which already runs two schools and will open two more in September, were judged by the council not to have enough capacity to manage a primary which will grow into one of the second biggest in Croydon.
Chairman Nitesh Gor said he was "surprised and disappointed" by the decision.
He said: "I cannot understand the council's rationale for turning down what was a very strong bid.
"It is crystal clear the community is crying out for an I-Foundation school but the council are just not listening."
A third organisation, Lilac Sky, withdrew their application earlier this year.
The new school is part of an expansion programme which aims to provide 3,000 extra primary places each year.
Tim Pollard, cabinet member for children, young people, and learners, is adamant the new school will open on time.
He added: "While our confidence in both bidders remains, there were concerns about their capacity at this point in time to deliver our requirements for the proposed school, which would be large compared to most primary schools.
"We are now working closely with the Department for Education (DfE) on securing a sponsored academy for the Davidson site, as the competition route is no longer open and all new schools are required to be academies nominated by the DfE."
I-FOUNDATION chairman Nitesh Gor is baffled as to why his organisation's bid was rejected.
The voluntary aided Hindu school would have operated an open admissions criteria, he explained, "allowing children of all faiths to come together under a common and embracing ethos".
Signatures of support were collected from 6,400 people and, Mr Gor claims, the school had the backing of 90 per cent of residents within a two mile radius of the Davidson Centre.
"The community has put in such much energy and support into this project," he told the Advertiser.
"I think the council owes it to them to really think this through more thoroughly."
The foundation currently runs two primary schools, the voluntary aided Krishna Avanti in Harrow, opened in 2008 and a school of the same name in Leicester established last year.
In September it will open two further schools - Avanti House, a joint primary and secondary in Harrow, and Avanti Court, a primary school in Redbridge.
The council felt opening another school at the Davidson Centre, which would have four forms of entry, would be too much for the organisation to cope with.
"We were asked us about our structure and we sent the council a very detailed report in terms of the capacity we have," said Mr Gor.
"It was clear in its assessment that we had the capacity to set up this school.
"It's actually of benefit to the pupils and the council that we are opening other schools because we can share best practice."
"So I'm very disappointed and surprised because our community consultation was extremely robust and provided very clear evidence of the demand for such a school."
LABOUR'S Kathy Bee, shadow cabinet member for children and young people, believes the collapse of the remaining bids to run the new school proves the process was a "farce".
Cllr Bee first raised her concerns about the suitability of Oasis Academy Learning, the I-Foundation and Lilac Sky at a council meeting last year.
"It was clear from the beginning that none of these providers were appropriate. Quite why this decision could not have been taken months ago is anyone's guess and points out how ridiculous the whole system is," she said.
"The really important thing for Croydon families is that whichever organisation runs the school it must be competent and experienced.
"I have always maintained that the most sensible way forward is for the council to have done it themselves but a community school is not an option. This proves who crazy the system is. It's a mess."
The council is now working with the Department for Education on securing a sponsored academy, with ARK Schools likely to be approached.
"I can understand them turning to someone like ARK as an emergency solution, especially under the current circumstances," said Cllr Bee.
"But its a complete farce because people will not have had an opportunity to discuss it or be consulted on the options.
"The whole process has been driven by government ideology when the focus should have been on finding the best possible solution for local people who now have the right to ask why a school can be awarded to an organisation which decided not to bid for it in the first place."
OASIS Community Learning has yet to comment on the collapse of its bid to run the Davidson Centre school but said standards are improving at Oasis Academy Shirley Park.
A spokesman said: "According to the latest Ofsted report, conducted just two weeks ago, significant improvement has taken place since 2009 with regard to 'improving behaviour, attendance and developing the quality of teaching'.
"In fact, the report noted that 'strong leadership' across the academy has demonstrated 'improved outcomes' and indicates a 'strong capacity to improve'.
"We continue to work very hard to ensure that that the marked progress we have already seen in our GCSE and early years results not only deepens but that future year's results at Key Stage 2 are equally as positive."