School mergers on the cards as city aims to cut surplus places

MORE schools in the Wakefield area could be merged as the local authority tackles the problem of spare places in its schools.

Councillors will be told that some areas have high numbers of spare places at primary and secondary schools while there are others where demand is high and extra classrooms may be needed as Wakefield Council looks to plan its provision for the next 10 years.

A report to be considered by members of Wakefield Council's Cabinet committee when they meet tomorrow says a shake-up will be essential in future years as it expects much reduced capital spending for schools in the light of the Government's budget cuts.

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It says: "Each surplus place equates to 1,020 per year spent on running costs of buildings rather than on teaching and learning."

In 2008 there were 5,000 surplus primary school places which the report says equates to 5m a year spent on the running costs of buildings rather than teaching and learning.

It adds: "This report provides a strategic overview of pupil-place planning and the demand for school places over the next 10 years and identifies areas where organisational change should be focused, in the context of much-reduced capital allocations for schools in future years.

"Engagement with headteachers and governors is essential to the success of future school place planning. In view of the Comprehensive Spending Review and the anticipated changes to the way capital funding is allocated, the options for change will need to consider making better use of our current school buildings, creative school management structures, greater collaboration and the sharing of local resources."

Currently the district has 16.5 per cent extra places at its primary schools – but a number of recent closures and amalgamations mean this is likely to fall to 13 per cent by 2013-14. Government guidelines suggest this figure should be below 10 per cent.

In secondary schools 9.11 per cent of places are surplus to requirements. Four schools, however, have more than 20 per cent surplus.

Estimates suggest that this figure could increase in future years to 14.62 per cent by 2015/16 based on the current admission and capacity of each school.

Experts predict that pupils numbers will increase over the following five years. The birth rate has been increasing since 2001 and is expected to be maintained at a fairly constant level, but it varies area by area.

The report outlines some areas which may need a shake-up.

In Featherstone around 30 per cent of places at primary schools are surplus and the report says the authority has entered into discussions with Purston Infant School and Girnhill Infants School looking at merger options but stresses nothing has yet been decided and talks are ongoing.

Figures for secondary school provision are even higher in the area and predicted to rise to over 50 per cent.

In Ossett primary schools are almost full and discussions are going on to see if they can take more pupils.

In the Agbrigg/Doncaster Road corridor towards Kirkgate and the city there is an increase in the need for places because of new development and a growing number of Czech-Roma and economic migrants. In Knottingley some 40 per cent of secondary school places are predicted to be surplus in the next decade. Initial discussions are taking place to consider whether Knottingley High School and England Lane Primary School can be provided from the same site.

In the Outwood and city areas new developments are due to be built in the future potentially bringing new secondary aged pupils to an already popular part of the city where Outwood is a school generally full. This will have an impact on available places.

Committee members will be asked for their opinions at tomorrow's meeting.