New Catterick Garrison free school having “destabilising” effect, meeting hears

The launch of a new free school in Catterick Garrison is having a “destabilising” effect on existing schools in the town, a meeting heard this week.

Education bosses have spoken of their efforts to prevent a drive to turn the British Army’s largest base into a ‘super garrison’ having a destabilising effect on schools in the area.

North Yorkshire County Council’s Richmond constituency committee heard councillors express frustration over how “umpteen” additional classrooms had been added to council-run schools in the area, but they were being denied funding to take extra pupils because a government agency had pressed ahead with building another school before it was needed.

The meeting was told the council, which is responsible for ensuring there are sufficient places for children at schools, had invested in established schools such as Le Cateau after being told by the government the garrison’s population of around 5,700 military personnel would increase to 8,400 military personnel by 2030.

To cope with a large volume of incoming service famililes, the Education and Skills Funding Agency also pressed ahead with plans for a new academy, Cambrai Community Primary School, which opened in September with less than 30 children.

Councillor Helen Grant, who is also deputy leader of Richmondshire District Council, said it was clear the launch of Cambrai School was having a destabilising effect on existing schools.

She added: “All the schools on Catterick Garrison have had an impact.”

It has emerged during the development of the school the council learnt the MoD had paused the planned development of Service Family Accommodation at the garrison. Consequently, the authority made representations to the agency that extra places at Cambrai school would not be needed as quickly as had been envisaged.

Officers said the agency had decided “on balance the opening of the school should go ahead, but take a more phased approach to expanding the school”. The meeting heard the authority supported a “gradual growth each year to avoid destabilising existing schools”.

However, the meeting was told as volumes of service families were not arriving at the garrison, the opening of Cambrai school had meant fewer pupils attending existing schools and all the other schools in the three-parish area featuring 20 barracks losing out on funding from housing developers.

Members heard as there was scores of available places for pupils at Cambrai school the council could not seek education contributions from housing developers for other schools, potentially worth hundreds of thousands of pounds.

Officers said there was still uncertainty about the future demand for school places, depending particularly on the scale and timescale of the proposed Service Families Accommodation.

Officers said the authority was “continuing to invest in the suitability of existing schools” and was developing a project with Wavell Junior School to generate funding for improvements.