SW Exeter | A new school? Or two schools? Or a through-school? But it will be a Free School!

Whenever I’m thinking [and blogging] about the South West Urban Extension, it’s mainly about transport infrastructure or a Park & Ride site. However, there is a another piece of major infrastructure that needs consideration – a school, or schools, to serve the increased population living in the 2,500 new homes.

The SW Exeter Masterplan produced by LDA Design in May 2011 covered all aspects of infrastructure, including schools.

LDA | Illustrative Masterplan
LDA | Illustrative Masterplan
LDA | Birdseye view of illustrative Masterplan
LDA | Birdseye view of Illustrative Masterplan

The masterplan outlined 3 options for strategic development based on the restraints and results of the capacity study of the site/study area The variations in the options were determined by strategic decisions such as location of schools.

Option 1
This development option indicates 2 primary schools, one to the north and one to the south of the A379, and a secondary school to the south of the A379 on a suitable site to the east of the centre.

LDA | Option 1

Option 2
This development option also indicates two primary schools, one to the north and one to the south of the A379, and the secondary school to the south of the A379 but this time on a suitable site to the west of the centre split by a green lane.

LDA | Option 2

Option 3
This option also indicates the primary school options as before, but with the secondary school to the north of the A379.

LDA | Option 3

Although all three options would lead to achievable developments, the assessment against the objectives indicated that Option 3  was most likely to produce a development that would meet the vision for South West Exeter and so was the chosen option to take forward and create a masterplan framework.

It was thought that the secondary school to the north of the A379  would fit well with the green infrastructure and ensure compact development to the south and around the district centre.

Strategic Development Layout 
During the development of the masterplan framework and discussions with English Heritage, the school site has swapped with the primary school so that is now on the west of Chudleigh Road, away from the ancient monument.

LDA | Strategic Development Layout
LDA | Strategic Development Layout

The masterplan framework was clear in its intention for the two primary schools – they were to be located each side of the A379, within walking distance for all new residents and preventing the new to cross the A379.

Exeter School Place Planning Update 
A report of the Head of Planning, Transportation and Environment on Exeter School Place Planning was presented to the Exeter Board on 27 January 2014.

SW Exeter – the development on 2,500 homes in SW Exeter requires new primary provision, and a site needs to be allocated to support secondary places required as a result of this development and wider demographic/housing growth within the city. Due to the site constraints, specifically the A379 dissecting the development and knock-on challenges of children having to cross the road, Devon’s response to the proposal has initially been to require two primary schools, one to the North and one to the South of the A379 and a secondary school site located adjacent to one of those primary school sites to support potential all-though provision.

However, the size and location of provision will be kept under review as the plan for the area is developed in detail, specifically the mitigation of crossing the A379 as this would allow an alternative option of a single education campus which would have greater flexibility and reduced costs.

Minute 34 School Place Planning notes:

The Board noted that the development of 2,500 homes in SW Exeter required new primary school provision, and a site needed to be allocated for secondary places as a result of this and wider demographic/housing growth in the city. Due to site constraints, specifically the A379 dissecting the development and knock-on challenges of children having to cross the road, the County Council s response was initially to require two primary schools, one to the North and one to the South of the A379 and a secondary school site (for approximately 600 places) located adjacent to one of those primary school sites to support potential all-though provision. All options were being considered, in detail, with good working relations between the two District Councils and the County Council as part of the master planning process in conjunction with the developers.

The local Member for Alphington (Exeter City Council) expressed her concerns about the proposals relating to the development and her view was that primary school provision should be located to the North of the A379 to minimise the need for primary school children to cross the A379. Members also expressed the view that as surface pedestrian crossing measures were not feasible any crossing should be via a subway and not a bridge and also supported the preference for a single campus to the north of the A379 and the need for secondary provision to the West of the Exe to reduce the number of children having to travel across the City.

It was MOVED by Councillor Westlake, SECONDED by Councillor Sutton and
RESOLVED that the County Council s Cabinet be requested to invite Exeter City and Teignbridge Councils to form a joint Working Party comprising local Councillors to investigate, in detail, infra-structure provision in respect of the proposed residential development to the SW of Exeter and to make recommendations to the respective Councils.

So it seems that out of the blue, Devon County were starting to favour a single through school to serve the new developments on both sides of the A379.

I am not sure where this idea came from, as it certainly isn’t outlined in DCC’s Education infrastructure plan 2013-2031 published in April 2013.

The EIP is clear that it would like to see public consultation to ensure “transparency on priorities and how decisions are made”. This change of emphasis for the school provision seems opaque and clear as mud!

Indeed a through school, in my view, contradicts the clear vision oultined in the EIP that:

2.15 Where a large scale new development is proposed in the form of a major urban extension, such development will normally be remote from existing provision. A development of 1,000 dwellings or more will, in most cases, make it necessary to seek new provision for early years and primary education, even where there may be some capacity in existing schools. Due to the significant investment requirements and size of secondary provision, the level of development required to trigger the need for new provision is significantly higher than for primary, and there is greater flexibility in the distance to nearest provider and financial viability of development. The early identification of new provision in the planning process ensures it can be considered early in the master planning process to support these new or expanded communities. This is very much the starting point for planning provision and will be subject to ongoing review and consultation.

When applying their principles to the future pattern of education provision in Devon, DCC state in EIP:

2.29 We will work with key stakeholders to secure (among other things):
– primary school accommodation within walking distance promoting local schools for local children, community cohesion and minimising the need to use transport to travel to school.

Again, this seems to be the vision outlined in LDA Design’s SW Exeter Masterplan rather than an unsupported wish from DCC for a through school.

Teignbridge District Council Development Framework for SW Exeter
At a Planning Committee meeting held on 29 July 2014, Teignbridge District Council Planning Committee approved the South West Exeter Development Framework.  This means that the document can now be used for development management purposes and is a material consideration in determining planning applications in SWE1 and SWE3.

The Development Framework has this to say on the need for education provision:

The residential development proposed in SWE1 generates the need for both primary and secondary school places, the number of which will necessitate the provision of new facilities.

New provision is required to accommodate all primary aged pupils generated by the development in South West Exeter as there is no spare capacity at existing primary schools and limited potential to expand existing sites. 2000 homes are likely to generate 500 primary aged pupils.

Significant secondary school places are required; however there is some spare capacity in Exeter secondary schools in the short term. By the end of the decade, these places are projected to be full as a result of demographic change and development within the city, and therefore additional new capacity is required.

Given that development in this location is cross boundary and Exeter facing, Teignbridge District, Exeter City and Devon County Councils are taking a wider strategic approach to need for secondary provision and incorporating a site within SWE1. This will accommodate approximately 300 pupils generated from the development and 300 from the wider Exeter area. Appropriate funding for this provision will come from a number of sources including Community Infrastructure Levy from the relevant Local Planning Authorities, reflecting the likely origin of the pupils.

The document updates the school provision covered by the Local Plan:

As per the Adopted Local Plan
“Land for 2 primary schools and 1 secondary school or preferably 1 primary school and 1 all-through school.” 

The Framework Document
Serviced land for a single campus education facility comprising pre-school, primary school and secondary school provision.” 

and as justification for this change of heart, the Development Framework gives the following reasons:

This has a number of advantages including:
– Accessible within walking distance of all the allocation including the allocation within Exeter City’s boundary;
– Incorporation of a dedicated grade separated pedestrian/cycle crossing of the A379 (see below). This would assist in channelling pupils to a single safe crossing point, reducing the numbers crossing at alternative, less safe locations;
– Shared provision of sports/activity space and educational resources;
– Teaching skills may be shared;
– Streamlined governance offering more flexibility to meet the needs of pupils;
– Operational flexibility and viability;
– Flexibility to manage fluctuations in pupil numbers and demand;
– Provides clear focus for a community hub, and;
– Significant capital and start up revenue savings, which make the school facilities and ongoing running costs more affordable.

Alternative approaches and options have been considered in detail and are not being pursued.

These options include:
– 2 separate single form entry primary schools. One located north of the A379 at the far north-west and one located south of the A379 at the far south east. A separate secondary school located at the south west of the A379.
– 1 through school (primary and secondary) at the far north west and a separate single form primary school towards the south east.

Reasons for rejecting these options:
– The capital and start up running costs of opening numerous schools;
– The difficulty of delivering and opening two primary schools at the same time leading to an imbalance in provision for many years;
– Phasing development of two primary schools introduces the risk that a second school will not be delivered should demographics and development constraints result in pressure to expand the first school leaving insufficient numbers of students to make a second school viable;
– Reduced flexibility to meet changes in demand;
– The implications for the amount of land required for numerous campuses, and;
– Potential for a reduced range of facilities for parents and children.

The view of Alphington Village Forum
Alphington Village Forum has maintained its opposition to a through school at all stages, preferring to support any scheme that would deliver two primary schools.

Their website has this to say on schools:

The situation at April 2014 is that Teignbridge District Council want to build a through school on the south side of the A379. This would include primary provision for all of the proposed 2500 new houses in SW Exeter. Based on 0.25 pupils per new house, this would amount to over 600 pupils.

AVF thinks that there should be a primary school on the north side of the A379 adjacent to the Exeter boundary(as originally proposed in the SW Exeter masterplan), to serve all new housing on the north side of the A379.  AVF believes that the walking route to the through school across the busy A379 is not suitable for primary pupils.

We are supported in this belief by Exeter City Council who will be writing shortly to TDC on the matter.

TDC have put forward an argument for an all-through school – better quality of education, better use of resources etc.

Two toucan crossings will be provided on A379 in addition to bridge.

TDC say that a reasoned argument will be required to justify any primary school on the north side of the A379.

A meeting will be held in ECC on 29th April to discuss such an argument, and a letter will be sent to TDC following discussion in the planning member working group.

ECC encourage people in Alphington to write in support of the ECC stance.

TDC have commissioned a study of a safe walking route to the through school.

One argument from DCC is that extra capacity at Bowhill and Exwick Heights PS will free up spaces at Alphington primary school although of course this would take time.

DCC say that developers have to provide safe walking route along Chudleigh Road, but Westcountry land are not doing this, saying that it is DCC responsibility.

New developments for the new development
I have just heard that there is the possibility of a new Free School being set up on the south side for only 420 pupils.

ECPS logo

Exeter Creative Primary School hope to be a new school that provides a dynamic and creative learning environment to achieve high standards in education.

Exeter Creative Primary School say he national curriculum will be taught in a creative and innovative way which will be enhanced by performing arts (drama, dance, music) to produce confident, high attaining,emotionally and intellectually well-rounded individuals.

There will be a focus on creative teaching and teaching for creativity, helping pupils to:
use their imagination and experience to develop their learning; they strategically collaborate over tasks; contribute to the classroom curriculum and pedagogy; and evaluate critically their own learning practices and teachers’ performance [Jeffrey, Bob and Craft, Anna (2004). Teaching creatively and teaching for creativity: distinctions and relationships. Educational Studies, 30(1), pp. 77–87]

Exeter Creative Primary School | About

Exeter Creative Primary School | FAQ

The seems to be a little confusion in these FAQ, which states:

Is a free school free to attend?
Yes. Free schools are free to attend and paid for through the Local Education Authority budget in the same was as any school.

This isn’t the case – the real situation is outlined by New Schools Network:

Free Schools: the basics
They receive all of their funding direct from central government, which means they have complete independence over how it is spent.

As part of the pre-application process, Exeter Creative Primary School has to demonstrate to the DfE that there is a local need for such a school by collecting signatures of parents who would send their child to the school, as Exeter Creative Primary School is encouraging people to fill in their survey.

I am assuming that ECPS is expecting to submit an application for Wave 10 Free Schools – and the application window in which applicants can apply to the DfE will open from 28 September 2015 until midday on 7th October 2015.

New Schools NetworkThe free school applicant’s handbook [July 2015].


Free schools and The Education Act 2011
The Education Act 2011 was given Royal Assent on 15 November 2011. It gave rise to the Academy/Free School Presumption; Government advice which clarified that any Local Authority in need of a new school must in most circumstances seek proposals for an Academy or Free School, [Establishing a new school advice for LAs and proposers. Departmental Advice, DfE  Website. Retrieved 31 August 2015].

“If a local authority in England think a new school needs to be established in their area, they MUST seek proposals for the establishment of an Academy”  

That would, of course, allow for free schools, as they are simply (in overall legal terms at least) a type of academy.

Only if no proposals come forward (or if the Secretary of State gives consent) can the local authority then set up a new  community, community special, foundation or foundation special school.

So a traditional community school is only allowed if no suitable Free School or academy is proposed [Schedule 11: Establishment of new schoolsEducation Act 2011. Retrieved 31 August 2015].

In July 2015 the advice was renamed the Free School Presumption reflecting the fact that the newly elected Conservative Government regarded all new academies established after May 2015 as Free Schools.[ “The free school presumption” DfE. Retrieved 31 August 2015.]

So what are Free Schools?
Free schools are schools which will be set up by groups of parents, teachers, charities, trusts, religious and voluntary groups. They will be set up as academies and will be funded in the same way – directly from central government.

Once established, free schools are legally Academies so are funded by central government and have a range of freedoms.
– They do not have to teach the National Curriculum: some schools use this freedom to teach different curricula – whether that is a challenging international maths curriculum or taking a different approach to learning with a theme each term linking all subjects.
– They can extend the school day or year: most use this freedom to add more time for learning or extra-curricular activity.
– They have more flexibility in the way they employ their staff: some choose to offer teachers performance related pay to keep and reward their best staff while others choose to bring in outside expertise by employing people without traditional teaching qualifications.
– They decide how they spend their full budget: they receive all of their funding direct from central government, which means they have complete independence over how it is spent
– They have independent governance: free schools are run by an Academy Trust, and are independent of Local Authority oversight. Therefore the role of Governors in overseeing an open school is particularly important.

Devon County Council and Free Schools
DCC’s Education Infrastructure Plan outlines the principles for providing new school places, including the role of new providers:

2.9 New providers will be entering the market through a competitive process and in principle this will happen in 2 ways:
1. Through proposals brought forward by existing providers and/or through the Government’s Free School programme. However, it was clear through the consultation process that existing schools feel challenged by new providers entering the market and question the need, value for money and quality of such provision.
2. As a result of demographic change or significant housing development, we will identify where new provision is required and advertise the proposals nationally and through the Department for Education, New Schools Netwotk and other interested parties. The process for this is identified in Appendix II.

Screen shot 2015-09-01 at 06.59.22

It seems that Exeter Creative Primary School is putting forward its plans under section 1. above.

I am led to believe that DCC are steadfastly against this proposal, and are likely to  resist it – but I’m not sure if they do much as the decision will be with the DfE rather than DCC.

The future
I have been – and still am – a strong and vocal critic of Free Schools and Academies, so it seems somewhat ironic that this might be the mechanism by which the residents of Alphington may achieve what they most want, a primary school to the north of the A379 within easy walking distance of the exisitng and new properties within Exeter City Council’s boundaries and without the need to cross a footbridge over the A379.

If the proposed Free School being set up as Exeter Creative Primary School on the south side is for only 420 pupils, there will have to be a second one somewhere for the other 210 primary school children. it seems to me that the only location is on the north side.

As well as providing education facilities, such a school would create some sort of hub for the new residents near Alphington, as well as protecting the precious ridgeline and Markham Lane.

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