When we left Edinburgh, one of the reasons we chose to move to Harpenden rather than into London itself is that the schools in this area have a brilliant reputation. But it wasn’t until we arrived – and I joined a local parents email list – that I realised there are also some serious problems with the education system here. There is a massive under-supply of school places in the town, and for the past three years there have been large numbers of children who have not been allocated a place at any of their chosen schools.
It has taken me a while to get my head around this – in Scotland you either go to your nearest school or you go to private school and the application process is much simpler. But after a few months reading emails on the local list, chatting to other parents at nursery drop-off and seeing the stress that families go through as they wait to find out if their children have a place in Harpenden at all, I am starting to understand the situation.
This year in Harpenden, things are so bad that local parents have organised a petition to Herts County Council, detailing the problems and calling for a permanent solution. You can view the petition online here, and if you live or work in Hertfordshire, I’d be delighted if you could sign it.
I’m also very happy to have local parent Sarah Beale as a guest blogger today, giving a personal account of her experience.
I lived in Wheathampstead for 21 years I grew up in a close community and attended St Helens school. I then went on to St Georges School in Harpenden. I went to St Georges as the senior school in Wheathampstead was closed and all the children in the village were sent to schools in their surrounding areas. I was fortunate to have been able to attend this school. However, I always felt apart from my peers at school as they were able to walk home and socialise with their friends after school. I was never able to do that as I lived at least three miles away from my school and was always a lift or a bus journey away.
We bought our house in 2004 before we had children as we wanted to be within walking distance of all the fantastic amenities that Harpenden has to offer. We bought our house as a family home and felt that it was well placed for our children. The suggestion that our children may potentially be sent nearly three miles away from their home just to go to school never have crossed our minds. I am heartbroken that we are now faced with exactly this problem, that my son my feel the same as I did when I attended school.
It is our greatest wish for our children to be involved and attend school within their local community. I believe that David Cameron’s Big Society is seriously at risk in Harpenden. Hertfordshire County Council is breaking down local communities with their inadequate school planning. We are fully aware that school budgets are tight, and that parental involvement with their child’s school is vital. People are more likely to want to volunteer if they feel it would benefit their local community. Taking children out of their locality for schooling will impact the willingness of parents to volunteer.
Our children will be faced with the same issue I faced as a child. If children are spread across a town, as opposed to in a small, localised area, they are less likely to meet up and socialise out of school hours with the knock on effect that parents do not get to know each other and the local community spirit dies.
I currently walk my son to nursery school, and he and I really enjoy the walk and the things that we see on the way to school. I am saddened by the thought of having to sit in lines of traffic, instead of walking. We are now faced with endless car journeys. The social aspect of meeting up with friends and neighbours on your walk to school will not happen for those of us faced with driving to Wood End.
The health and safety of those without access to transport should also not be ignored. Currently the parents living in the Crabtree area would be able to easily walk their children to a local school, without having to cross any major highways. The suggested additional places at Manland would mean all the parents living in the Crabtree area having to cross Station Road during rush hour, and would make it almost impossible for them to access Wood End, without both the parents and the local council incurring additional costs.
The addition of a local class in the Crabtree area would ensure that the local children are involved in their local community; that the parents would be able to be a part of their children’s education; that we could see our children at school; we would be able to walk to school and enjoy being part of the Big community.
If you’re a local business who would be willing to have a paper copy of the petition on your premises, or if you’d like to get more involved with the campaign you can email firstname.lastname@example.org