Lessons in huts fear as pupil numbers set to soar

Bradford councillor Ralph Berry
Bradford councillor Ralph Berry
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CHILDREN could be forced to have lessons in “huts and portable buildings” as councils struggle to cope with a major increase in Yorkshire’s primary school population caused by the rising birth rate and immigration, an education chief has warned.

Across the region the number of primary age pupils will rise by almost 50,000 in just five years with Bradford and Leeds facing some of the largest increases.

Every year councils can bid for extra Government money to increase school capacity to cope with any increase in pupils.

However Bradford Council’s executive member for children’s services Ralph Berry said the scale of the population rise means longer-term funding is needed.

An education expert has also warned that the increasing number of pupils nationally will mean overcrowded schools and larger class sizes.

Buckingham University Professor Alan Smithers also said the scale of immigration from Eastern Europe into the UK since the expansion of the EU had taken school planners by surprise.

New figures predict there will be 45,682 more primary school age pupils in the region in 2015/16.

The Department for Education (DfE) says numbers of primary age pupils in Leeds will increase from 55,337 this year to 67,082 in five years – up 11,000.

Bradford will have more than 5,000 more pupils at both primary and secondary level by 2015.

Sheffield will have 4,393 more primary pupils while North Yorkshire will have 3,960 more pupils. Pupil numbers will increase by 4,191 in Kirklees and by 2,781 in York. All 15 education authorities in the region will see an increase.

Coun Berry said: “I think the penny is finally starting to drop nationally. I am concerned about how we cope with this and that we are not left putting children in huts and portable buildings. We are facing a real challenge to find the places.

“We get ‘basic need’ funding from the Government every year but to plan better we need to look at doing things over a longer period. Doing it annually is very good for the construction trade because by the time we get the funding we have to rush to get work done in time for the next school year and contractors can charge more.”

The Government gave councils £1.3bn to cope with pupil numbers last year. An initial £800m was topped up with an extra £500m for those with the greatest need.

Four authorities in Yorkshire benefited. Leeds received an extra £8.2m while Bradford was given £7.4m, York got £1.5m and Kirklees was awarded £581,723.

Leeds Council’s director of children’s services Nigel Richardson said: “We have been implementing a school expansion programme since 2009. We have estimated that between now and 2015/16 the demand for primary places in Leeds will increase by 11,745, so we are working hard to ensure that we are able to provide enough primary school places.

“This demand is a result of significant demographic change in the last three to four years, in the main caused by increases in the birth rate. This mirrors national demographic trends, although the impact in Leeds has been accentuated by our particular community profile and patterns of migration in recent years.”

Nationally, an extra 454,800 primary school pupils are expected by 2015/16, while the number of secondary-age pupils will increase by 44,210.

Schools Minister Lord Hill said: “We’re creating thousands more places to deal with the impact of soaring birth rates on primary schools. We’re more than doubling targeted investment at areas facing the greatest pressure on numbers – to over £4bn in the next four years.”