It will be off our patch, but local children may end up going there, so information about Merton Council’s plans for a new Wimbledon-based secondary school may be of interest.

Councillors from Trinity ward organised a public meeting last night which was also attended by a representative of Merton’s Children, Schools and Families Department, Lee Mallin who is Executive Principal of Harris Academy Morden and will be headteacher of the planned new school, and another senior executive from the Harris Federation.

We learned (in no particular order):

  • The new school will be based at Whatley Avenue SW20 from September 2018 until September 2020 when a purpose-built school in High Path will be ready to move into.
  • It will be six-form entry and cater for both boys and girls.
  • The new High Path school will be a four/five-storey tower, sitting beside Merton Abbey Primary, replacing a community resource centre, Elim Church and the Domex industrial unit, all of which will have to re-locate.
  • It’s a small site, so will probably share part of Merton Abbey’s playing field. (No mention of this causing any safeguarding issues.)
  • There will be a gym/sports hall but outside space will be minimal. One member of  the audience asked for confirmation that Abbey Rec, on the other side of Morden Road, would not be requisitioned for the school’s use, but remain open to the public. Locals, who are about to undergo major reconstruction work on the High Path Estate with greater density housing, are obviously concerned about losing nearby open space.
  • The council officer said he thought there might be the opportunity for pupils to use a single pitch on the non-council owned Nursery Road playing fields beyond Abbey Rec (a 10-15 minute walk away along narrow High Path and across busy multi-lane Morden Road), though this has not been confirmed. Otherwise, there will be no nearby space for outside sport.
  • When it was suggested that this might make the school ‘a difficult sell’ for many Wimbledon parents who are keen for their children to take part in activities such as rugby, football, hockey, cross-country running, cricket etc, the Harris Federation representative said, “If you want sports and large playing fields, go to another school.”
  •  However, Mr Mallin did point out that duathlon would be offered – using indoor exercise machines!
  • Lots of Harris Academies are based on sites where there is little in the way of outside space. (Does this make it right?)
  • Entry for the new school will be purely on catchment – no plans to bring in banding whereby a certain proportion of pupils from low- middle- and high-ability bands are offered places.
  • While based at Whatley Avenue, it is unclear yet how catchment will be calculated, but it may be that one third of intake comes from proximity to Wimbledon Chase, one third from Merton Abbey and one third from Wimbledon Park primary schools. Once based in High Path, catchment will apply to that location only.
  • Being located next to Merton Abbey Primary will enable teachers from both schools to share learnings and resources, Mr Mallin said. (Not sure how this works when one is a maintained (council) school and the other a free/academy school. Teachers/governors may have views on this.)
  • All Harris Academy Schools have good/outstanding classifications under Ofsted.
  • There will a Chess Club, and the opportunity for all pupils to learn musical instruments on a reduced fees teaching programme (via Merton Music Foundation).
  • Locals were concerned about the safety implications of a school being based so close to the site of a massive re-build regeneration scheme at the High Path estate opposite. Mr Mallin has driven past the site of the new school but not walked the area.

The Council was also asked how thoroughly it had actively considered other sites for a school, and what the postcode profiling was for pupils at existing Wimbledon secondary schools ie whether a Mitcham/Morden site might be of more use if many children were commuting into SW19 from the east of the borough. No definitive answer on that one.

The Harris Federation has set up a web page providing information about the new Wimbledon school