Plan for two new free schools in Merton divides Labour party
Plans by education charities to create two new free secondary schools have caused a split in Merton's ruling Labour group.
The Harris Federation which runs Harris Academy Merton and Harris Academy Morden, has approached Merton Council to build a third free school in the area to plug the shortage of secondary school places in the borough.
And a plan to build a secondary school by charity Chapel St - which is set to open a new free school called the Park Community School in the Salvation Army building in Crown Lane, Morden in September - has been submitted to the Department for Education.
Despite a statement issued by Council leader Councillor Stephen Alambritis suggesting otherwise, some Labour councillors are bitterly opposed to more free schools in the borough.
A heated discussion between councillors at a meeting on Monday, July 7, highlighted divisions over the secondary plans, with many unwilling to accept more schools outside council control.
A source said: "There is a split in the Labour cabinet, in the party and in the group about this."
Councillor Peter Walker told the Wimbledon Guardian: "I am resolutely against free schools which take tax-payers money to set up schools which can employ unqualified teachers, select their own intake, teach in inadequate buildings, ignore the national curriculum and pose a threat to school standards."
And concerns remain about the ability of Chapel St to deliver.
Its primary school location, which will have just a single class in its first year, is only temporary as a permanent site in Tyndale House in Dorset Road, Morden, is not yet ready.
But a spokeswoman from the charity insisted it will be ready by September next year and refutes claims the school only had six children on its books after finding it hard to attract pupils.
A spokeswoman from Chapel St said: "We will be opening in September with one reception class for 30 children before increasing to two reception classes in 2015.
"We absolutely refute that there are only six children registered for the school in September - we wouldn't be allowed to open the school with such low numbers.
"Any number we present to the Department for Education must be backed up by a financial and educational plan that's sustainable.
"We can confirm that we have applied to open a secondary school, Trinity High School, in Merton in September 2016."
In June the Wimbledon Guardian reported three council-owned sites had been identified as potential locations for educational purposes.
Cabinet member for education, Councillor Martin Whelton would not discuss ‘confidential’ council discussions but did say the council was approached by the Harris group with a view to putting in an application for an academy in the west of the borough.
Coun Whelton said: "At the moment the talks are in a very early stage but we will talk further with the Harris group in the coming months."
Coun Whelton said Chapel St had struggled to attract pupils to the new primary school which has been plagued by problems, and has now submitted a separate proposal for a secondary school in the borough to be open in 2016.
Coun Alambritis said: "The Labour group is united in its recognition of the need for additional secondary school places in the borough to build on the huge programme of primary school expansions we have already undertaken.
"Our two Harris academy schools offer a great standard of education to local children and I am happy to talk to Harris about any plans they may have for further investment in the borough."