Second home owners force schools to close
29th December 2009
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Schools in the Purbecks are to close because second home owners have priced local families out of the area.

Education chiefs are to close up to six schools to bridge a surplus of 1,000 places on the Isle of Purbeck.

In recent years the area has become a magnet for holiday home owners, sending property prices soaring and forcing young families away.

As a result, some of the region's 18 schools now have classrooms that are half-full due to a lack of pupils.

Of the 5,035 places available, 3,878 are taken up. One school alone has a surplus of places of 54 per cent.

The problem is costing the taxpayer £400,000 a year to fund the gap.

Plans have been rubber-stamped to close four middle schools and two first schools on the idyllic peninsula.

The move will mean many children having to travel up to 20 miles a day to attend school while headmasters, teachers, teaching assistants and admin staff face losing their jobs.

Mrs Toni Coombes, cabinet member for childrens services at Dorset County Council, said: "Purbeck has the largest number of holiday homes and second homes in Dorset, if not the country and that creates huge problems.

"Young, local people can no longer afford the inflated house prices. When they grow up they are moving out of the area and that is the real crux of the matter.

"We just haven't got the young families to send their children to our schools.

"The birth rate has fallen from 10.2 births per 1,000 to 7.9 from 1996 to 2006.

"While the population of Purbeck has increased in that time it is older people moving in rather than a baby boom.

"A lot of the money that goes into our schools is being spent on funding half-empty classrooms, it is about 400,000 pounds per year.

"The matter is no longer sustainable. By reducing the surplus places that money can be invested into education."

Purbeck has become a popular location to live in recent years, because of its spectacular scenery and proximity to Britain's Jurassic Coast.

Out of the 21,344 properties in the area, 1,469 are listed as second homes and it is estimated a further 200 are used as holiday lets.

The coastal hamlet of Worth Matravers has been dubbed a ghost village as up to 60 per cent of property there is holiday homes.

The average cost of a starter home in the area is about 215,000 pounds. A two bed semi-detached bungalow in Corfe Castle is for sale at 210,000 pounds.

Rick Perry, the project manager for the council's education review, said Purbeck's natural beauty causes it to suffer.

He said: "The Purbecks is a beautiful area to live in but in a sense, it suffers quite a bit.

"There are lots of second homes in the area and a fair number of people who have chosen to buy these properties are older.

"There is an aging population and a lack of women of child bearing age.

"As a result, there are not that many children taking up school places."

From 2012 the current three tier education system of first, middle and upper schools on Purbeck will be replaced by primary and secondary schools.

All of the middle schools will be axed and the remaining first schools will be turned into primary schools.

The region's only secondary school will be boosted by taking pupils in from the age of 11 rather than the current rate of 13.

Dave Pratton is the head of Swanage Middle School, which has a surplus of 90 places out of its 350 capacity.

He said he was opposed to the plans as his elder children will now have to travel 20 miles a day to attend secondary school.

He said: "We have an aging population in Swanage yet we aren't doing anything to attract families with children here.

"Our children aged 11 and 12 will have to travel 20 miles a day to Wareham to go to school. They won't be able to take part if after school classes or anything like that."

Bere Regis First School currently has a 46 per cent surplus but is not being earmarked for closure and will instead increase its pupil size by becoming a primary school.

The headteacher, Steve Battishill, said more social housing needs to be built in the Purbecks.

He said: "We have lost most of our pupils to nearby areas such as Poole where there is more social housing.

"It's a bit too simplistic saying keep the countryside as it is but something needs to be done before it gets worse."

Read the Original Article. The Daily Telegraph


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