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Primary Education News
News Creating solutions to cope with rising demand for school places
Staffordshire county council is working with existing schools to help expand the number of school places available
An unprecedented rise in birth rates is causing an urgent need for more capacity in the nation's schools, and there has been increased debate over the issue of primary school places.
In Staffordshire, where births as a whole have increased by up to 11% over the past decade, we have seen the largest increases in urban centres - in rural areas we are actually seeing a decline in pupil numbers, which poses an entirely different set of challenges.
The issue of increased demand became apparent to the county council four years ago. It was clear that rapid action was needed to ensure a school place for every child. Since then, we have successfully applied for £44m of the government's basic need allocation, and over the past three years have managed to provide an extra 2,000 primary school places across the county.
We have achieved this through a variety of methods: extending and expanding schools, adding more classrooms to increase capacity and rebuilding and remodelling existing schools instead of just building a few new ones.
In Burton-upon-Trent, where demand in some areas has increased by 43%, and we require an extra 1,000 places within the next 10 years. We have invested £20m to work with schools and increase their intake, from simply adding classrooms to actually moving an existing school from its current site into a brand new, larger building.
This has not been without its issues and initial resistance from the local community; the extra volume of traffic a new school brings was a very real concern for local residents. We met this challenge head on by engaging and consulting with local people on possible solutions, and coming up with a range of highways improvements to accommodate the school and allay their fears.
We have also started construction of the first basic need primary school to be built in the county for 25 years. With capacity for 420 primary pupils, this new academy school will go some way to alleviating the pressures on primary school places in Burton. We won't be stopping there, though, as we are already planning for a further 200 additional places across Burton in 2016.
We have already added capacity to other areas of the county including Huntington, Fradley, Lichfield and Stafford either by making better use of existing accommodation or through new building.
In 2015 around 1,000 service personnel will be relocated to Stafford through the Borona Project, bringing with them around 300 primary age children. We will need to increase primary and secondary school capacity and work is well underway with local schools, the borough council and the wider community.
Challenges still remain. The government's allocation of basic need funding for the next two years is an opportunity to apply for Targeted Basic Needs, but the timeline for creating new schools and school places is longer than two years and local authorities need greater certainty over future funding.
The key is to get to grips with the issue as early as possible. Through planning the county council has been able to work on solutions, raise funding as early as possible, and put plans in place to increase capacity.
Ensuring greater capacity in the nation's primary sector is not just about building new schools; it is about working with existing schools, dioceses, district and borough councils, using customer insight to ensure the right resources are put into the right area. It's about consulting with parents and local residents early on to create long-term, sustainable and far-reaching solutions that will ensure we are well placed to cope with demand now and in the future. In Staffordshire we are taking action to provide a bright and prosperous future for the county's children and young people.
Eric Robinson is deputy chief executive and director of people
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