Four years after opening and school needs more classrooms

Clare Stour Valley School, Head Christine Inchley with pupils from Y9 pleased that the school is doing well and in need of new classrooms for more students.'Picture Mark Westley ANL-150623-235516009
Clare Stour Valley School, Head Christine Inchley with pupils from Y9 pleased that the school is doing well and in need of new classrooms for more students.'Picture Mark Westley ANL-150623-235516009

One of the first free schools in the country has proved so popular it is now having to apply to build temporary classrooms in the playground.

Stour Valley Community School opened in September 2011 on the site of the former Clare Middle School, at first having just 172 pupils across three year groups.

It was amongst the first ‘free schools’ in the country, an independently-run, state-funded school set up by the Stour Valley Educational Trust community group.

Such has been the popularity and success of the school that it has recently applied to St Edmundsbury Borough Council to put up temporary classrooms in the playground, which would see the school’s capacity increase from 543 to 600 pupils.

Already there are three more pupils than the school is built for, with 565 pupils expected at the start of the new academic year in September.

But still this is not enough, with many families left disappointed, unable to get a place.

Headteacher Christine Inchley said: “When the school opened we had a total of 172 students across three year groups, with an annual published admission number (PAN) of 108.

“Consequently we were well under-subscribed and had all of the space we needed and more.

“Because of very strong interest from parents, we increased the PAN to 115 two years ago.

“That year we had 258 applications which named Stour Valley, and had to spend a lot of time hearing appeals from disappointed parents who had failed to gain a place for their children at the school.

“This year the figure, once again, was over 200. Now that we have five year groups in school, and face the prospect of over 570 students on roll from next September, we just don’t have enough teaching space in school.”

Of course demand means the school is clearly doing something right, attracting pupils and parents from across the area, with applications from 23 different primary schools this year.

“We offer a small, friendly school where students are well known as individuals,” said Mrs Inchley. “We are very aspirational for all of our students, regardless of ability.”

She added that the school’s Ofsted inspection report in 2013, which rated the school as ‘good’ with two out of four key categories listed as ‘outstanding’, had attracted even more families.

The school is hoping the application will be heard before the new term starts in September, however, Mrs Inchley insisted the new facilities would not have a negative effect on pupils’ education.

She said: “These classrooms are large and airy and well designed for educational purposes. They bear no resemblance to the portable cabins of old which many of us used when we were at school.”