Drive to create additional school places in Yorkshire

A drive is underway to stem an emerging secondary school places crisis across parts of Yorkshire, despite warnings of a 'significant' funding gap when it comes to the cost.

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A huge bulge in primary school pupil numbers, which has seen an extra 600,000 places created across the country since 2010, will reach secondary level in coming years. With it will come an additional 54,274 children needing places in Yorkshire, and warnings nationwide that councils face an “emergency” situation.

Moves are underway across the region as all education authorities are set to see pupil numbers rise in the next five years - exceeding capacity by as many as 3,249 in some areas.

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“Providing additional places is increasingly challenging both locally and nationally,” said Coun Jonathan Pryor, executive member for learning and skills at Leeds City Council.

“The funding formula central government uses often doesn’t cover the actual costs of delivering new places leaving the council with a significant funding gap, however we continue to invest in good learning places for children in the city as part of our ambition to be the best city for children to live and grow up in.”

Earlier this month, the Local Government Association (LGA) which represents local councils warned the issue was at a crisis point, with 134,000 children at risk.

“No family should face uncertainty over securing their child’s secondary school,” said Coun Anntoinette Bramble, chair of the children and young people board.

“But the reality is we face an emergency in secondary school places where the number of pupils is growing at a far faster rate than the number of places available.”

Local councils should be given the power to open new maintained schools if needed, the LGA has said, and be given the responsibility for making decisions.

Six education authorities in Yorkshire are set to see their schools reach capacity within the next five years, according to LGA analysis. But moves are underway to address the issue, with councils braced for a boom.

An additional 12,000 school places have been created in Leeds since 2009, mainly in primary schools, Coun Pryor said, and there are proposals to expand some secondaries in the city and find additional places in others.

In Sheffield, two new secondary schools have opened this month, and additional places have been secured at a third school, creating an additional 2,000 spaces.

“We are providing more local school places to help us meet the needs of our growing population,” said Coun Jayne Dunn, cabinet member for education and skills.

“We know that additional places will be required in the coming years and will continue to monitor pupil numbers and any requirement for additional places. We all want the best for our children and a huge priority for us is to raise attainment and achievement rates across the city.”

In York, Maxine Squire, assistant director of education and skills at the city council, said the authority has predicted a rise and is increasing places to meet demand.

“We’ve created extra school places in areas of the city which need them alongside managing our existing supply that includes a surplus of places in some areas.

“We forecast places until the middle of the next decade and our latest forecasts are that we have sufficient primary school places city-wide based on current trends and we are planning to add additional places where needed at secondary schools.”

Capacity exists in many schools, she added, mostly in the north of the city.

“We are confident that together, we will manage the additional demand.”

School Standards Minister Nick Gibb said huge efforts are being made to create school places.

“This Government has driven the largest creation in school places in two generations and by 2020, there will be one million more new places across the school system than there were in 2010,” he said.

“We are spending £23bn by 2021 to ensure every child has access to a good school place and since 2010, 43,000 fewer pupils are being taught in overcrowded schools. Our latest admissions data shows that 93.8 per cent of children received offers from one of their top three choice of secondary school last year.”