Plea over Pakefield High School funding

MINISTERS were this week urged to provide millions of pounds for vital improvements at Waveney's newest high school amid warnings that children face being educated in 'unacceptable' conditions.

Pakefield High School, which opened in September, was the first new high school to be built by Suffolk County Council in more than two decades. It currently caters for more than 300 pupils in Years 7 and 8, and is set to grow in size over the next three years until it has more than 900 students in 2014.

But concern is mounting over the �12m it requires to provide badly-needed new facilities at its cramped site in Kilbourn Road – the former home of Pakefield Middle School which closed last summer.

With the work scheduled to take place in three phases, the first began last year and is due to be finished by next summer. However, the money for phases one and two was earmarked to come from the now-defunct Building Schools for the Future scheme – and there are now doubts over if and when it will be paid.

As staff and governors seek to create a positive atmosphere for pupils and reassure parents, Waveney MP Peter Aldous and county councillors are now pressing the government to release funds to complete the work.

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Pakefield High's headteacher Perry Linsley told The Journal that suggestions the former middle school was refurbished and incorporated within the new building would be 'unacceptable' and said the school's existing kitchen, dining area and sports hall would not be big enough to cope with more than 900 pupils.

The school's limited sports and recreation facilities – which prompted objections from Sport England during the planning process – were also a source of concern, he said.

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'The existing school site is simply not adequate,' Mr Linsley said.

'I feel we must find funding to at least complete phase two in the very near future. It is my belief that this should be through completing the new school buildings that have been started. We're waiting on the council's condition report and the real issue we have is with our PE facilities, in that we have a small sports hall – the size of one basketball court – and the changing rooms are very small. As part of the planning consent, Sport England understood we would have a full sports hall, a multi-use games area and a climbing wall.'

Earlier this month, Mr Aldous called on the government to 'do all it can' to fund the completion of the school– a specialist arts and engineering college which was proposed to cost a total of �26.5m.

Speaking during Prime Minister's question time in the House of Commons, Mr Aldous said: 'Will the Prime Minister ensure that the government do all they can to fund the completion of the newly opened Pakefield High School in Lowestoft, which will play such an important role in skilling young people in a deprived area?'

Responding, Mr Cameron said: 'This year Suffolk has an extra �33m in capital funds. It is obviously for the local authority to decide how to spend that money, but school capital available throughout this spending round and this Parliament amounts to �15.9 billion, so money is there for important school projects.'

Yesterday, Mr Aldous told The Journal 'I did raise the profile of the matter at Prime Minister's questions to make sure it is firmly on the government's radar and I am working with the county council, the local education authority, the school and government exploring all avenues to get the funding.

'I asked the education minister (Lord Jonathan Hill) for a meeting to discuss the situation and spoke to him the day before PM's questions. This was a detailed conversation, discussing how we can achieve the funding for the school long term, which was left open to talk further at a latter stage, and we are continuing to talk,' he said.

Insisting the current situation was 'more positive' than it had been in recent months, Mr Aldous said: 'Both the local education authority and government realise the school needs to be completed. As far as I am aware, there are three detailed specifications of how the school is completed that the county council are working on. The school needs to be completed and I'm absolutely determined to make this happen.'

Pakefield High was created as a result of the county council's controversial Schools Organisation Review (SOR), which saw education in the Lowestoft area move from three tiers to two, with all middle schools closing. The new high school was required to cater for pupils aged 11 to 16 in the south Lowesoft area.

Graham Newman, the county's portfolio holder for children, schools and young people, told The Journal: 'Suffolk County Council is painfully aware of the urgent need to fund the completion of the new Pakefield High School as a consequence of the government's cancellation of the Building Schools for the Future programme.

'School infrastructure and property teams are currently evaluating alternative ways of completing the project and calculating the resultant costs. Notwithstanding the fact the second and third phases of this project have never figured in Suffolk County Council's capital budget planning, we are working with various agencies, the MP, and indeed reviewing our capital budgets, to ensure this school can be completed to its designed 900-pupil capacity.'

This week, the Labour prospective parliamentary candidate for Waveney, Bob Blizzard, said that the government money earmarked for the 'unwanted free school' in Beccles should be used to plug the funding gap that is preventing the completion of the newly opened Pakefield High School.

• What do you think? Write to Postbox, 147 London Road North, Lowestoft, NR32 1NB or email including your name and address

•Postbox – page 21

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