Yorkshire headteachers in call for action on school places

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Headteachers have warned urgent action needs to be taken to address an escalating school places crisis with more classrooms for thousands of extra pupils needed in Yorkshire over the next three years to keep pace with a population boom.

Government data reveals that a further 6,844 primary places and 7,856 in secondary schools are needed by September 2021.

Forecasters at the Department for Education (DfE) looked at the growth in pupil numbers, and rising birth rates have meant more children in primary schools for the past few years, which is now starting to feed in to secondary classes. But the shortfall in places will only affect some schools and age groups, and is a problem already being felt in certain areas.

General secretary of the National Association of Headteachers Paul Whiteman said: “This is an issue which isn’t going away.

“Until the Government sorts its act out and comes up with a national strategy to guarantee there are enough school places for every child in England, there will always be anxiety for parents about whether their children will get the school place that they want.

“Authorities are responsible for ensuring sufficient places but they no longer have the powers and resources they need. We have a haphazard approach to place planning. Decisions are being made in isolation and new schools and new places are not always being commissioned in the areas they are most needed.”

The data reveals that 470 state-funded schools in the region were full or had too many children in the school year for 2016/17 – 429 primaries and 41 secondaries. These schools have a total of 5,299 pupils over their capacity. But there are 1,627 schools with room to take more pupils, with 44,025 unfilled primary places and 64,004 at secondaries.

The competition for places leads to some schools receiving too many applications while others prove less popular. In 2016/17, there were 763,836 pupils on the roll at all of the region’s primaries and secondaries. That is expected to rise to 825,652 in three years.

The current spare capacity could absorb some of this growth in pupil numbers in the coming years. But it may be capacity in the wrong place and for the wrong age group, leading to shortfalls for some schools. Expanding popular schools, known as “bulging”, and building new ones can help to deal with the uneven distribution, to match the pupils with the places.

Mr Whiteman added: “Until some agency at the local or 
regional level has the 
information and clout to prioritise places where they are most needed, parents and children will always be unsure the system will give them what they want.”

Over the next three years, Yorkshire councils have funding to expand or build new schools to provide 14,230 more places. This does not include centrally funded free schools or academies.

A DfE spokesperson said: “Funding for places is based on authorities’ own projections and since 2010, we have created 825,000 new school places and 90,000 between 2016 and 2017.”

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