Havering primary schools to lose 41 libraries, IT rooms in “re-commissioning” of “mothballed” classrooms

Twenty-eight primary schools in Havering will lose IT suites, art rooms, libraries and special educational needs (SEN) facilities so the rooms can be turned into classrooms, it was revealed at last week’s meeting of Havering Council.

In all, 41 rooms – representing a capacity of about 1,230 school places – will be converted back into classrooms, having been “mothballed” in the mid-to-late ‘00s.

Three primary schools – Parsonage, Pinewood and Wykeham – have already gone through this process, with classrooms being re-commissioned for use from September 2012.

Answering a question from Cllr Keith Darvill (Labour, Heaton), Cllr Paul Rochford (Conservative, Emerson Park) said: “The term ‘mothballed’ classrooms refers to accommodation which was taken out of general education use when pupil admission numbers previously reduced in some primary schools as a result of falling rolls.

“Whilst the reference to ‘mothballing’ may suggest this space was locked up and placed out of use […], in most cases the ‘surplus’ space has been used by individual schools to accommodate various educational uses such as IT suites, school libraries, art/resource rooms [and] SEN use.”

During a public council meeting in May, council leader Michael White told a member of the public, Lorraine Moss: “It’s true to say that the birth rate has increased, but the advice I’m given is that because of the mothballed classrooms we have in place we are able to deal with that.”

He added: “My officers tell me the capacity we have in the system is enough to deal with demand.”

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But just four months later – at the council meeting on September 19 – Cllr Rochford told the council: “Unfortunately, it is not possible to accommodate the projected increase over the next four to five years in this manner.”

Because of the need to accommodate extra groups of children not just in reception but as they progressed through the system up to year six, “individual classrooms ‘dotted’ around the borough would not be practical and consequently net expansion to some schools is inevitable.”

Following up his question to Cllr Rochford, Cllr Darvill asked in the chamber why the information about “mothballed” classrooms hadn’t been available when school places were discussed at a cabinet meeting in June, and why a Freedom of Information request submitted shortly after the May meeting by Ms Moss still hadn’t been responded to.

“There is a whole set of reasons, not least of which because we wanted to talk to the schools […] to make sure they were involved,” said Cllr Rochford, adding there would be an explanation for the FOI delay “in due course”.