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Top judges to rule on battle of schools

PUBLISHED: 13:07 09 July 2009 | UPDATED: 11:14 12 August 2010

A DISPUTE between single-sex schools over a building extension has intensified with the boys accusing the girls of trying to block their hopes of a better future. Langley Park Girls School has asked judges at the Court of Appeal to intervene over plans

A DISPUTE between single-sex schools over a building extension has intensified with the boys accusing the girls of trying to block their hopes of a better future.

Langley Park Girls' School has asked judges at the Court of Appeal to intervene over plans to extend a neighbouring boys' school to cater for a higher pupil intake.

Crumbling buildings at Langley Park Boys' School, in Hawksbrook Lane, Beckenham, were designed for only 650 pupils, but there are now more than 1,600 boys on the roll.

The school's headteacher says the facilities are so crowded they don't meet modern fire or health and safety rules. They are also blamed for creating a major discipline problem.

Now, the dispute across the school fence has become so heated that Bromley council's lawyers last Thursday accused the girls' school of employing delaying tactics in a bid to see the controversial project scrapped.

The boys' school was selected for millions of pounds in public funding under the government's School Pathfinder Programme in June 2006.

The council urged the government to split the cash between the two schools but the Department of Children, Schools and Families refused, opting to rebuild just the boys' school. Meanwhile, the girls will miss out on the programme and have to continue using their 1960s classrooms.

The council granted planning permission for the boys' school to press ahead with the project a year ago despite a tense public meeting where the headteachers of both schools made their feelings known.

At the Appeal Court hearing, the girls' school's barrister, Richard Langham, said there had to be "very special circumstances" to justify development of open urban land and the council had failed to adequately take that into account.

The council had not even considered the girls' school's alternative development proposal, the barrister argued, adding that the wording of its formal decision did not "remotely reflect" what was actually said at the public meeting on June 17 last year.

However, John Steel QC, for the council, said Ofsted had highlighted the "poor state" of the boys' school's buildings as long ago as 2006 and the school's headteacher is adamant that that is having a "profoundly adverse" impact on pupils' education.

Overcrowding in the school's corridors and stairwells is creating health and safety risks, along with "poor behaviour", said the QC, and the ageing classrooms, many of them temporary, are "too hot in summer and too cold in winter".

He attacked the girls' school's complaints about the planning permission as "misconceived".

Mr Steel described the girls' school's proposals as "extremely vague" and argued that it had delayed too long in launching its court challenge.

More than £200,000 had already been spent on preliminary work, the hearing was told.

The QC said the boys' school feared that any further delay might result in construction work being cancelled.

He told the court: "The council suggests that the girls' school is seeking to use the legal action as a means of delaying the construction of the much-needed school with the hope that the delay will lead to the collapse of the project."

In February, the High Court ruled in favour of the boys' school, seemingly ending the three-year dispute.

But weeks later the girls' school governors were accused of trying to "wreck" the £38million development when they announced they were to appeal against the decision.

After a day-long hearing, Sir Andrew Morritt, Lord Justice Moore Bick and Lord Justice Sullivan reserved their decision on the girls' school's appeal until an unspecified later date.

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