Kent education expert says parents moving to Ebbsfleet Garden City face a 'major crisis' due to school place problem

An education specialist says parents moving onto a new housing estate are facing a "major crisis" due to its lack of school places.

Peter Read has revealed there are just 38 vacant reception spots in the Ebbsfleet area, where 15,000 families are expected to live.

Peter Read speaking about the school placement issue in Ebbsfleet

He said: "There is a major crisis of school places in Ebbsfleet. There are no places for families moving into the area and there won't be any until a few years down the line.

"Because of this, parents will be referred to schools outside Ebbsfleet itself, and unfortunately, if you look at the six nearest schools, just one of them has got vacancies and that's the problem because that school is very unpopular."

Mr Read's explanation comes as parents already living in the neighbourhood stated they are having to travel almost 20 miles a day to take their child to school.

He continued: "Currently, Knockhall Academy, in Greenhithe, is the only academy in the area that has vacancies in the reception year.

Education expert, Peter Read. Picture: Peter Read
Education expert, Peter Read. Picture: Peter Read

"That's all of the vacancies for all the six schools in Ebbsfleet, Swanscombe and Greenhithe.

"Parents will be referred to this one school, which is very unpopular due to its 'requires improvement' Ofsted report, even though it is on the edge of Ebbsfleet.

"Kent County Council's (KCC) own documentation says there's not an immediate problem, because there are these 38 reception places vacant at Knockhall, they are saying there isn't a crisis. There is, make no mistake about it."

Mr Read, a former head teacher who became a highly-respected consultant offering advice on educational matters, says his research shows Dartford schools are often looked at as an alternative for Ebbsfleet parents, however, in the October school census, there were just four reception places across the eastern half of the town.

He said: "These places would all have gone by now because Dartford is also receiving people moving in from London.

Knockhall Academy in Greenhithe. Picture: John Westhrop
Knockhall Academy in Greenhithe. Picture: John Westhrop

"However, KCC planning documents have said over the next five years there's isn't a major problem because there are actually currently over 200 vacant spaces, across all year groups, at this one unpopular school in Greenhithe.

"So it says we've not got a problem in the area, but parents are quite rightly saying, if it's so unpopular, why should we have to go there?"

The lack of spaces comes as KCC education chiefs believe there will be demand for 6,600 new secondary school places by 2026, the equivalent of more than seven secondary schools.

Mr Read said: "Dartford is the main problem area for primary education in the county.

"There are other hotspots but Dartford is the centre of the problem at the moment and what worries me is there seem to be very few ideas to expand to meet the demand.

"Around 15,000 homes are being built in Ebbsfleet, heavens above, at the moment they've got two schools – that's not enough for 15,000 families.

"They hope to have another couple of schools somewhere in 2025 but it's not good.

"If you are buying a house in Ebbsfleet, unless you've got particular circumstances, the likelihood is that for many of you, you will not find a local school.

"You may have to travel into Gravesham, into Longfield, you may have to travel five, 10 miles to find a school – that's the reality at the moment I fear.

"A lot of people don't know the situation unless they move into the area.

Castle Hill, an estate in Ebbsfleet Garden City
Castle Hill, an estate in Ebbsfleet Garden City

"I am sure parents are being promised that there are places at new schools, but you've got situations at schools, such as Ebbsfleet Green, where children are being bussed off to Strood because the buildings aren't ready."

Mr Read believes that Ebbsfleet Development Corporation has not moved fast enough to meet parental concerns and provisions.

However, KCC does have the overall responsibility for school places in Kent.

He said: "Parents have got to face up to the hard choice.

"Do they want to send their child to the school in Knockhall, which is itself a couple of miles away from the main current centre at Ebbsfleet, or do they want to take their child further afield?

"But Dartford is jam solid. Northfleet, which is the next area along, has got some vacancies, but they may not wish to go that far.

"But that's the choice they may have to make. I'm sorry. But that's it if you're looking for a state school place."

KCC explained that the pace of new housing occupations slowed during the pandemic and, as a result, the delivery of new schools was adapted accordingly.

A spokesperson said: “Kent County Council has been working closely with the Ebbsfleet Development Corporation, Dartford Borough Council, local education providers and housing developers to ensure that there are sufficient primary, secondary and special school places for those children who require one in the Swanscombe and Greenhithe area.

“The commissioning intentions of KCC for education provision are set out in the Kent Commissioning Plan which is updated every year.

"The latest iteration of the Kent Commissioning Plan will soon be published, following its presentation to Cabinet earlier this month.

“Much of the Ebbsfleet area has been subject to section 106 (of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, as amended) agreements which require the delivery date of a new school to be linked to the number of occupations of new housing.

“Cherry Orchard Primary Academy and Ebbsfleet Green Primary School have both opened their doors within the timescales agreed; at September 2017 and September 2020, respectively.

"The next new primary school (Alkerden) will open in September 2024, in line with housing occupation triggers.

“In the interim period, there is capacity in nearby Knockhall Primary School, and the Ebbsfleet Green Primary School is currently offering 30 reception places, but will eventually be offering 60 reception places when demand requires it.

Cherry Orchard Primary School in Castle Hill
Cherry Orchard Primary School in Castle Hill

"It is a usual practice to open a new school, when local demand requires it, in order to avoid any adverse impact on neighbouring schools.

“The newest iteration of the Commissioning Plan shows manageable forecasts within the existing school estates, with small deficits for 2023 and 2024 being managed through the two schools mentioned above.

“In the longer term, KCC expect to be commissioning another new 2FE primary school in Ashmere, in the western part of Ebbsfleet.”

Ebbsfleet Development Corporation has been contacted for comment.

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