Westminster Labour is seeking urgent answers in response to the proposed merger of the Westminster Cathedral and St Vincent De Paul Catholic primary schools. We also share the concerns of parents, residents, and staff when it comes to the handling of the ongoing consultation and the impact any merger could have on children. Parents and pupils protested outside the school on Monday 18th October.
Westminster Cathedral School is exploring a merger because, with an average class size of 22, it is under-subscribed and runs a large financial deficit. With government funding linked to student numbers, schools like Westminster Cathedral face pressure to merge and cut staffing levels.
While the enrolment challenge facing Westminster’s primary schools is well-known (there are more places than there are children), the proposed merger has come as a shock. Parents are now seeking reassurances over basic questions such as:
- Will the Westminster Cathedral school site close?
- If there are two sites, will siblings and friends be split up?
- What will be the wraparound care provision at the new school?
- Will parents be expected to purchase new school uniforms for their children?
- Will staff cuts result in larger classes?
Labour is asking these questions of Westminster Council. Despite the ongoing consultation, many parents feel the merger is being presented as a done deal. No other options are on the table and the National Education Union, which represents the teachers, was not forewarned.
Funding cuts have exacerbated the school’s deficit. Since 2015, central government has slashed the school’s funding by over £50,000. Westminster is one of the richest cities in the world. An average class size of 22 should not be considered outrageously low or force a school into financial ruin.
Councillor Tim Roca, Shadow Cabinet Member for Children’s Services, said:
“We are in the midst of a pandemic. The last thing parents and children need is added uncertainty. Mergers should be a last resort and pupils must come first. Westminster City Council need to explain how it will ensure quality of teaching isn’t compromised, protect children with special educational needs and how the situation got to this point with parents left in the dark for so long”.
Local resident, Robert Eagleton, Pimlico South Labour candidate, said:
“The parents I have spoken to are outraged at the proposals. Why is a ‘Good’ school, in a desirable part of central London, under-subscribed? The truth is, families are being forced out of Westminster because they cannot afford to live here. This is what happens when you re-house social tenants outside the borough and fail to build enough affordable housing”.