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'No difference if it was a refugee camp' says governor of academy teaching pupils in Croydon office block

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PUPILS at a new academy in Thornton Heath have spent the first two weeks of their school lives being taught in an office block on Purley Way.

Paxton Academy Sports and Science, a free school, was forced to find emergency accommodation after being unable to fit out its temporary classrooms in time for the new term.

Alisa Flemming, Labour's schools chief, said the situation was a "big disappointment" which would not have happened if the council was able to open schools.

Charlotte Davies, chairman of Paxton's governing body, dismissed criticism of its problematic beginning.

"It doesn't matter if children are being taught in a refugee camp or in a purpose built building. What parents want is high quality teaching which they have not been able to access in Croydon until this point," she said.

It has been a difficult few months for Paxton, which had to seek an alternative home after being unable to purchase its intended site in London Road.

It will be housed in temporary buildings on the grounds of Streatham-Croydon Rugby Club, in Brigstock Road, until the permanent building is completed in two years' time.

Those cabins were then delivered late and the school's first 62 reception-aged pupils have been taught in offices in Lombard House, Purley Way, since September 15.

Mrs Davies said staff had worked "day and night" to ensure the temporary classrooms on the rugby club's playing field will be ready for Monday (September 29).

"It's not ideal but we have to make the best of the situation and get on with it," she said.

"That's an important lesson that we pass on to the children. It might not be absolutely perfect but it's not the end of the world."

In a newsletter sent out this week, head teacher Johnette Barrett, accepted it had been "a rather bumpy start" but thanked parents for their "goodwill".

Paxton is one of three schools to open in Croydon this month amid unprecedented demand for places, particularly for primary aged children. Two are 'free schools' - set up by parents or other members of the community - and a third is an academy.

Due to Coalition government policy, local authorities are no longer able to open their own schools so rely on bulge classes and permanent expansions on existing sites to meet demand.

Cllr Flemming, cabinet member for children, families and learning, said Paxton's problems are a "classic example" of the issues that can cause.

"I don't think it's a good start for a child to have to begin their primary school education at Lombard House," she said.

"It's a big disappointment and its very frustrating that there isn't more we could do.

"At the end of the day, whatever the debate is between the council, academies or the government, those children, who were excited to start school, are now in an office. I'm really disappointed about that and won't pretend otherwise."

Ms Davies said: "The council might have had the school open and ready on time, but it would not have got good value for money. Neither would they be able to deliver the same quality of education.

"I've taught in refugee camps. When I came back to Britain I was shocked at how low the standards were compared to Vietnamese refugee camps.

"Children of four can be taught excellently if you have a good teacher and have thought of a good programme for the day. It doesn't matter if you are in a refugee camp or in a purpose built building.

"Our parents understand that. What they don't want to have to do is send their children back home to get a high quality education, which is what too many families are having to do."

'No difference if it was a refugee camp' says governor of academy teaching pupils in Croydon office block


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