Liberal Democrat mayoral hopeful Duwayne Brooks has criticised the way Labour have dealt with education matters, during an exclusive interview with ELL. According to Brooks, the party are failing to deal with increasing demands on primary school places in Lewisham.
Brooks attributed lack of foresight, absence of planning and poor leadership as the reasons behind Lewisham’s continuing primary school place shortage. He said that “the infrastructure in place could not meet the rising demands on Lewisham schools.”
The remarks from Brooks come in the wake of comments made by Helen Klier, Labour’s Lewisham Cabinet member for Children and Young People. Speaking in the South London Press on October 4, Klier blamed the shortage of primary school places on a lack of funding from the coalition government.
Brooks dismissed these claims and said the problem in Lewisham was a “historic one” and stretched back to a time when the Labour Party held office at national and local level.
He said: “The problem first came about around eight or nine years ago when the birth rate began increasing. Anyone with five pence of sense would have known then that Labour needed to start looking at the issue of school places”.
He added that since that time, the council had “kept the problem under cover, until it exploded last year.”
Brooks was referring specifically to the situation last July when 200 children were left without a primary school place. He used Ashmead Primary as an example of how the demand for school places in Lewisham was outstripping what could be offered: the school saw 209 children apply for just 30 places.
Brooks was also heavily critical of Labour’s decision to adopt “bulge classes” as a way of creating more places in schools. He said that parents across the borough reported that their schools were already too crowded, and that adding additional classes to year groups would only exacerbate the problem.
According to Brooks it is new schools that are needed in the area to prevent further disappointments for Lewisham’s children.
If the Lib Dem candidate wins his mayoral campaign next April, he plans to start a team that would be responsible for assisting free school applications.He said: “These teams would look at vacant school sites in Lewisham and assist in setting up good quality free schools”.
In response to Brooks’ comments, Klier said: “Councillor Brooks continues to play politics with children’s education in Lewisham. We have pledged to provide a place in a Lewisham school for every child that wants one, and we will keep that promise. Since 2008, we have created 2,643 additional primary places and we estimate that a further 806 places will be required by 2016/17, the equivalent of 27 new classrooms.
“Councillor Brooks’ ill-informed comments insult the dedication and hard work of teachers, governors and parents, who have worked with us to deal with this crisis.
“While Councillor Brooks was demonstrating how little he actually knows about this issue our Mayor and Heidi Alexander MP were sitting down with one of Councillor Brooks fellow Liberal Democrats, the Schools Minister David Laws, discussing the need for further Government support to enable the permanent expansion of some of Lewisham’s very successful primary schools to come to terms with the continuing rise in demand.”