04:51PM, Wednesday 28 June 2017
Hopes of parents wishing to send their children to over-subscribed Lowbrook Academy this year were dashed after councillors voted against funding its expansion.
A proposal to pay £775,000 to build four classrooms and a second hall at the highly-regarded primary school in the Fairway would have permanently increased its yearly intake from 30 pupils to 60.
At a full council meeting on Tuesday a total of 23 councillors voted in favour, 23 voted against, and two abstained – including Cllr Natasha Airey, cabinet member for children's services, who introduced the report to the council.
It fell to Mayor John Lenton to cast the deciding vote, and he promptly chose to oppose the funding.
Afterwards Lowbrook headteacher Dave Rooney, 46, said he saw a ‘clear divide’ between the Windsor and Maidenhead councillors, and added ‘tribal politics has no place’ in the debate about school expansion.
“We are bitterly disappointed with the outcome,” he said.
“They (parents) feel they have been let down by democratic process, and feel they have not been listened to.
“Their lives are now going to have to change,” he added, as some will need to take one sibling to Lowbrook and another to a different school in the morning.
Last year, the Royal Borough allocated £1.6 million for the scheme, but it has proved to be insufficient to complete the expansion.
During the debate, Cllr Ed Wilson (Con, Clewer South) said councillors ‘all agreed that we support its expansion’ but the discussion was about ‘the money that is required to keep it going’.
“We do have 66 other schools in the borough and we do have to recognise they have needs,” he said.
“The money being spent here is equivalent to our entire Basic Needs spending on schools."
He cautioned that ‘we don’t want this inter-school rivalry building up’.
Cllr Jesse Grey (Con, Datchet) asked: “Why should the biggest proportion of the pie go just in one direction, to Lowbrook?”
He added: “It isn’t fair to the other schools, and we will suffer, because those schools will come back and use this school as an example to put us under the sword.”
Leader of the council Simon Dudley (Con, Riverside), who is a governor at Holyport College, spoke in favour of approving the funding, but also abstained from voting.
He described Lowbrook as ‘pretty much the best primary academy in the country’ and the ‘jewel in our education crown’.
Cllr David Burbage (Con, Bray) said approving the funding was a ‘no-brainer’, adding: “We have the opportunity to expand one of the best schools in the country and we are dithering about it.”
Cllr Simon Werner (Lib Dem, Pinkneys Green) said: “The parents want it, we want it. Why don’t we just get it done?”
Mr Rooney said he would provide a free breakfast club and look after children while parents took their children’s siblings unable to attend Lowbrook to and from other schools.
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