Progress as at May 2017

                                                                                                                                                22nd May 2017

 

 

Benenden Primary School New School Building Update

 

Dear Parents,

 

In my last letter to you in March I promised an update on the new school building project.  We had a meeting scheduled with Kent County Council (KCC) in April at which we were expecting to discover further news on the progress of our new school.  Unfortunately KCC cancelled that meeting because they had no further updates to provide to us.  As you can imagine the School’s Governing Body found this extremely disappointing.  It has been extraordinarily difficult for us to find out from KCC the exact status of our new school and what has caused the constant delays and how we can help.  Despite these frustrations this current project still remains the best chance we have of acquiring a new fit for purpose school, and we are committed to doing everything we can to deliver a new school in the quickest possible timeframe.

 

It was my intention to be able to categorically state to you in this letter the date the new school will be built.  Unfortunately, as we have no update from KCC, I am unable to do this.  The last date provided to us by them to complete the school is September 2018.  With the amount of work still to be done the governors of the school do not believe this date is achievable.   

 

I realise that many of you will be aware of the complexities surrounding our efforts to get a new school built for Benenden’s children.  For some of you, particularly if you are relatively new to the village and/or the school, you might not know the long road we have travelled in an effort to make this a reality.  I will very briefly therefore outline how we have arrived at this point.

 

After a long and complex planning application, made more difficult because we live in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, permission was gained to build a new school back in December 2012.  During the years taken to get this permission the economic climate changed significantly and KCC, who are ultimately responsible for the school, found they no longer had the money to build the school.  Thanks to the determination of school governors and supported by KCC, a successful application was made to Central Government through their Priority Schools Building Programme 2 (PSBP2) that is managed by the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA).  This scheme is intended to provide capital funding to refurbish and extend existing school buildings rather than build new ones.  The rules and criteria of this scheme are well publicised and the new school building for which we have Planning Permission, does not easily meet them.  What all officials from KCC and the ESFA agree upon is the desperate need that Benenden has for a new facility and they would allow us to be included in the scheme. 

All parties have known from early on that the ESFA would not be able to provide the full funding for the school and that KCC would have to provide a “top up”.  The ESFA need to confirm how much money they will provide to KCC, who, in turn, need to confirm how much money they will provide to build our new school.  In order to make these decisions a Feasibility Study needs to be completed to the satisfaction of the ESFA.  It is this Feasibility Study that has taken an unreasonable amount of time to complete and we are still waiting for confirmation that it has been successfully completed.

 

We know from KCC’s own figures that because of population growth it needs to increase the number of primary school places across Kent by 8,000 in time for 2022. The council realises that the most pragmatic way of doing this is by expanding existing schools like ours, throughout the County. It is difficult to imagine that KCC will not take the opportunity of building our new school as part of the solution to this much wider challenge.  So, we have a strong case which the Governing Body will continue to pursue.

 

Since the meeting with KCC was cancelled the Governing Body has continued to try to influence those involved to bring this matter to a close.  I met with our MP Helen Grant in April who agreed to chair a meeting between KCC and the ESFA in an attempt to remove the barriers to progress.  However, the General Election was called immediately after I met her which has meant she can no longer facilitate this meeting until after June 8th.  In the meantime Oliver Streeten, Bill Martin and Chris Boyce have, on behalf of the Governing Body, continued to liaise with both KCC and the ESFA to provide information and maintain some momentum for our project.

 

The question that I know the entire school community wants answered is : ‘so when will the new school be built?’.  The less than simple answer I have offered already.  My summary of the situation is thus:

 

We are closer than we have ever been to getting a new school and remain confident it will happen.  We do not believe it will be by September 2018 and that 2019 is more realistic.   We will continue to try to influence those that hold the purse strings to make this happen earlier rather than later in that year.

 

I realise this is not the answer any of us want to hear.  The governors and staff of the school do not have the authority or the money to build a new school, but are reliant upon both government and our local authority (KCC) to do this.  My commitment to you is that the governors of the school will continue to press them to build our school as soon as possible.

 

If you have any questions or comments you would like the governing body to address then please email me at mike.lycett@btinternet.com

 

Yours sincerely

 

Mike Lycett

Chair of Governors