The Wokingham Paper

Parents push council for sixth form in Arborfield Green

Pupils entering Year 11 at Bohunt will now have to think about moving to a different sixth form. Picture: Bohunt School

A petition has been launched in bid to expand Bohunt School

PARENTS of one of the borough’s newest secondary schools are calling for the council to let it expand and create a sixth form there.

Bohunt School, which opened four years ago, was designed to easily accommodate a sixth form block. But Wokingham Borough Council has said it won’t consider building such a facility until at least 2024.

This means that the students entering Year 11 need to re-think their education plans.

Vikki Carey, who has one daughter in Year 9 and another starting at the school in September, said she moved to Arborfield for Bohunt.

She told Wokingham.Today: “My eldest looked at all the different schools and fell in love with Bohunt. We were lucky to be given a place even though we lived in Lower Earley, out of the catchment area.”

The family moved in November 2018, to ensure their youngest daughter could get in too.

Ms Carey added: “Arborfield Green has been built around the school, even the school itself was shaped in a way to make room for the sixth form expansion.

“I think the school staff always assumed that it would be built, there’s always been talk of it. Even John Redwood came to visit not long ago, and the staff told him about their vision for the school.”

Are there enough sixth form places?

Now, Ms Carey said her eldest is much more likely to choose a sixth form college out of the borough, than go to a local school.

“Joining an existing school for their sixth form can be hard, I think we’d be much more likely to choose a college in Bracknell, Farnborough or Yateley. I would be happy for her to stay at Bohunt if it were possible.”

Wokingham Borough Council leader Cllr John Halsall, said: “We have sufficient provision for sixth form in the borough.

“In these straightened times, we certainly don’t have the money to expand schools where it is not necessary.

“The whole world is looking at money at the moment. We’d never get a grant from the Government to build a school that wasn’t necessary.”

In a survey of 576 parents of Bohunt schoolchildren, 97% of parents wanted their children to continue their sixth form education there.

If the new block isn’t built, 59% said their children would use sixth form places at another school, and 38% said their children would go to a sixth form college outside of the borough. The remaining 3% said their children would look for apprenticeships

Ms Carey said the argument about sufficient places creates a “vicious cycle” when students choose sixth form colleges instead of secondary schools.

She said: “If we continue to send out children out of the borough, there will still be surplus places in Wokingham, and the funding is taken out of the borough too.”

She argued that building a competitive sixth form at Bohunt would also attract students — and subsequent funding — from neighbouring villages, such as Everlsey in Hampshire.

Bohunt School in Arborfield was built to accommodate a sixth form block expansion. Picture: Bohunt School

Plans to expand Bohunt have always existed

Andrew Popple, community governor for post-16 provision at Bohunt, said: “Staff are disappointed that we’re not able to expand.

“They would love to see the students stay, and with a sixth form, it’s an opportunity to see their own personal development opportunities.

“But ultimately, we have a duty of care to our students, and by September, we need to be really clear with them about their options if this sixth form isn’t built.”

Cllr UllaKarin Clark, executive member for children’s services at WBC, said: “Wokingham Borough Council’s initial plans for Bohunt School was that it would cater for children aged 11 to 18.

“The building was designed with an additional sixth form wing planned to be built a few years after the school opened to cater for post-16 provision.

“However, prior to opening Bohunt Education Trust applied to change the numbers within the school and increase the number of pupils for years 7 to 11, thus removing the capacity for the post-16 element within the overall numbers as originally planned.

“We have looked at capacity for post-16 places and found that we have enough places within the borough to meet the needs of post-16 learning through to 2024/25.

“Because of this, we are not able to build or provide funding for an increase to the existing premises at Bohunt School.

“Although we recognise this is not what the parents of Bohunt pupils will want to hear, as a council we need to look at the overall impact of our funding decisions in terms of value to all residents, including taking account of any impact on other schools providing post 16 learning within the borough. We will continue to review this decision.”

Now, a petition has been launched to change the council’s mind. It’s had more than 1,000 signatures.

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